Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation Support in Severe COVID-19

Ann Thorac Surg. 2021 Feb;111(2):537-543. doi: 10.1016/j.athoracsur.2020.07.002. Epub 2020 Jul 17.


Background: Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) remains a worldwide pandemic with a high mortality rate among patients requiring mechanical ventilation. The limited data that exist regarding the utility of extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) in these critically ill patients show poor overall outcomes. This report describes our institutional practice regarding the application and management of ECMO support for patients with COVID-19 and reports promising early outcomes.

Methods: All critically ill patients with confirmed COVID-19 evaluated for ECMO support from March 10, 2020, to April 24, 2020, were retrospectively reviewed. Patients were evaluated for ECMO support based on a partial pressure of arterial oxygen/fraction of inspired oxygen ratio of less than 150 mm Hg or pH of less than 7.25 with a partial pressure of arterial carbon dioxide exceeding 60 mm Hg with no life-limiting comorbidities. Patients were cannulated at bedside and were managed with protective lung ventilation, early tracheostomy, bronchoscopies, and proning, as clinically indicated.

Results: Among 321 patients intubated for COVID-19, 77 patients (24%) were evaluated for ECMO support, and 27 patients (8.4%) were placed on ECMO. All patients were supported with venovenous ECMO. Current survival is 96.3%, with only 1 death to date in more than 350 days of total ECMO support. Thirteen patients (48.1%) remain on ECMO support, and 13 patients (48.1%) have been successfully decannulated. Seven patients (25.9%) have been discharged from the hospital. Six patients (22.2%) remain in the hospital, of which 4 are on room air. No health care workers who participated in ECMO cannulation developed symptoms of or tested positive for COVID-19.

Conclusions: The early outcomes presented here suggest that the judicious use of ECMO support in severe COVID-19 may be clinically beneficial.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • COVID-19 / mortality
  • COVID-19 / therapy*
  • Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Retrospective Studies
  • SARS-CoV-2*