Background: Conventional cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) for cardiac arrest after open-heart surgery in children is often unsuccessful despite the ability to perform open-chest massage. The purpose of this study was to review our results with mechanical support as rescue therapy in children with sudden circulatory arrest after cardiac surgery.
Methods and results: From 1981 through 1991, we have used mechanical support with an extracorporeal membrane oxygenator (ECMO) circuit for cardiac support in 33 children. Eleven of the 33 patients (age, 15 +/- 7 months) suffered cardiac arrest intractable to conventional open-chest massage 39 +/- 15 hours after an open-heart procedure. The mean duration of CPR was 65 +/- 9 minutes until ECMO flow was started. ECMO support was continued for 112 +/- 8 hours. One patient had ECMO discontinued due to bleeding (survived); three were discontinued from ECMO and died from neurological complications; and one died of cardiac dysfunction. Sepsis on ECMO was seen in one patient (survived). Overall early survival was seven of 11 (64%) with one patient requiring heart transplantation due to irreversible cardiac dysfunction. One child died late (1 month) after ECMO support. There were no long-term sequelae in the survivors.
Conclusions: We conclude that ECMO rescue in children with postcardiotomy cardiac arrest is a feasible option in selected patients even after prolonged CPR (as long as 60 minutes).