Limb ischemia after common femoral artery cannulation for venoarterial extracorporeal membrane oxygenation: an unresolved problem

J Pediatr Surg. 2010 Nov;45(11):2136-40. doi: 10.1016/j.jpedsurg.2010.07.005.


Purpose: Extracorporeal Life Support Organization Registry data confirm that the number of pediatric patients being supported by extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) is increasing. To minimize the potential neurologic effects of carotid artery ligation, the common femoral artery (CFA) is frequently being used for arterial cannulation. The cannula has the potential for obstructing flow to the lower limb, thus increasing ischemia and possible limb loss. We present a single institution's experience with CFA cannulation for venoarterial (VA) ECMO and ask whether any precannulation variables correlate with the development of significant limb ischemia.

Methods: We reviewed all pediatric patients who were supported by VA ECMO via CFA cannulation from January 2000 to February 2010. Limb ischemia was the primary variable. The ischemia group was defined as the patients requiring an intervention because of the development of lower extremity ischemia. The patients in the no-ischemia group did not develop significant ischemia. Continuous variables were reported as medians with interquartile ranges and compared using Mann-Whitney U tests. Differences in categorical variables were assessed using χ² testing (Fisher's Exact). Statistical significance was assumed at P < .05.

Results: Twenty-one patients (age, 2-22 years) were cannulated via the CFA for VA ECMO. Significant ischemia requiring intervention (ischemia group) occurred in 11 (52%) of 21. In comparing the 2 groups (ischemia vs no ischemia), no clinical variables predicted the development of ischemia (Table 1). In the ischemia group, 9 (81%) of 11 had a distal perfusion catheter (DPC) placed. Complications of DPC placement included one case of compartment syndrome requiring a fasciotomy and one patient requiring interval toe amputation. Of the 2 patients in the ischemia group who did not have a DPC placed, 1 required a vascular reconstruction of an injured superficial femoral artery and 1 underwent a below-the-knee amputation. Mortality was lower in the ischemia group (27% vs 60%).

Conclusions: Limb ischemia remains a significant problem, as more than half of our patients developed it. The true incidence may not be known as a 60% mortality in the no-ischemia group could mask subsequent ischemia. Although children are at risk for developing limb ischemia/loss, no variable was predictive of the development of significant limb ischemia in our series. Because of the inability to predict who will develop limb ischemia, early routine placement of a DPC at the time of cannulation may be warranted. However, DPCs do not completely resolve issues around tissue loss and morbidity. Prevention of limb ischemia/loss because of CFA cannulation for VA ECMO continues to be a problem that could benefit from new strategies.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Angiography
  • Catheterization, Peripheral / adverse effects*
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation / adverse effects
  • Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation / methods*
  • Female
  • Femoral Artery
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Heart Diseases / therapy
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Ischemia / diagnosis
  • Ischemia / epidemiology
  • Ischemia / etiology*
  • Leg / blood supply*
  • Male
  • New York / epidemiology
  • Prognosis
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Risk Factors
  • Young Adult