Background: The survival of patients after prolonged cardiac arrest is still inadequate. Extracorporeal life support (ECLS) represents an alternative therapeutic method for patients who do not respond to conventional cardiopulmonary cerebral resuscitation. This technology is used to support the circulation of a patient with severe cardiac failure.
Methods: Between June 1997 and January 2003, 40 ECLS procedures were performed in patients who presented with refractory cardiac arrest. During external cardiac massage, the patient was connected to an extracorporeal circuit by the insertion of an arterial and venous cannula through the femoral vessels. The extracorporeal circuit included a centrifugal pump and an oxygenator. Mean age was 42 +/- 15 years; the average time of external cardiac massage was 105 +/- 44 minutes.
Results: Once the circulation was restored, 22 patients were disconnected from the extracorporeal circulation because of brain death or multiorgan failure; after 24 hours, among the 18 survivors, 6 were weaned off the pump, 9 were bridged to a ventricular assist device, and 2 patients were directly bridged to cardiac transplantation. Eight patients are alive and without any sequelae at 18 month's follow-up.
Conclusions: In prolonged cardiac arrest with failing conventional measures, rescue by extracorporeal support provides an ultimate therapeutic option with a good outcome in survivors. Our results encourage the wider application of ECLS for refractory cardiocirculatory arrest in selected patients. The high rate of neurologic death needs further improvements in the early phase of resuscitation maneuvers.