Successful COVID-19 rescue therapy by extra-corporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) for respiratory failure: a case report

Patient Saf Surg. 2020 May 8;14:20. doi: 10.1186/s13037-020-00245-7. eCollection 2020.


Background: The value of extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) for patients suffering from novel coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) as a rescue therapy for respiratory failure remains controversial and associated with high mortality rates of 50 to 82% in early reports from Wuhan, China. We hypothesized that patient outcomes would be improved at our tertiary cardiothoracic surgery referral center with a protocolized team-approach for ECMO treatment of patients with severe COVID-19 disease.

Case presentation: A 51-year-old healthy female developed severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) bilateral pneumonia while vacationing in Colorado with her family. She was transferred to our facility for a higher level of care. Her respiratory status continued to deteriorate despite maximized critical care, including prone positioning ventilation and nitric oxide inhalation therapy. Veno-venous ECMO was initiated on hospital day 7 in conjunction with a 10-day course of compassionate use antiviral treatment with remdesivir. The patient's condition improved significantly and she was decannulated from ECMO on hospital day 17 (ECMO day 11). She was successfully extubated and eventually discharged to rehabilitation on hospital day 28.

Conclusion: This case report demonstrates a positive outcome in a young patient with COVID-19 treated by the judicious application of ECMO in conjunction with compassionate use antiviral treatment (remdesivir). Future prospective multi-center studies are needed to validate these findings in a larger cohort of patients.

Keywords: COVID-19; Coronavirus; Extra-corporeal membrane oxygenation; Lung injury; Remdesivir treatment; SARS-CoV-2.

Publication types

  • Case Reports