The adult respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) is a form of diffuse lung injury associated with multiple risk factors. Patients with severe hypoxemia who meet blood gas criteria defined by the extracorporeal membrane oxygenation trial (ECMO) of 1974 to 1977 have a reported survival of 11 percent. The reported survival has remained unchanged for 15 years despite numerous technologic advances. We prospectively studied ARDS patients who met ECMO blood gas criteria. One hundred seventy-eight ARDS patients were prospectively screened over a 30-month period. Fifty-one of these patients met ECMO blood gas criteria and 23 (45 percent) survived (p less than 0.001 vs ECMO trial). No obvious differences in etiology, APACHE II score, organ system failure, or the incidence of sepsis was found between survivors and nonsurvivors. We conclude that survival of ARDS patients who met ECMO blood gas criteria in our institution is higher than that previously reported from both other centers and our own hospital.