Mobilization of Patients Receiving Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation Before Lung Transplant

Crit Care Nurse. 2021 Aug 1;41(4):39-45. doi: 10.4037/ccn2021689.


Background: Extracorporeal membrane oxygenation is increasingly used to provide cardiopulmonary support to patients awaiting lung transplant. Although studies have shown that these patients benefit from early mobilization, the care team often has concerns about related complications, particularly for patients requiring femoral cannulation.

Objective: To assess the safety of mobilizing patients receiving extracorporeal membrane oxygenation before lung transplant using a standardized mobility protocol.

Methods: A retrospective review was performed of the electronic health records of patients receiving extracorporeal membrane oxygenation before or immediately after lung transplant who were mobilized according to a standardized protocol from April through October 2018. The setting was an 18-bed cardiothoracic intensive care unit in a Magnet-designated teaching hospital. Patients were helped to ambulate by an interdisciplinary team, with careful assessment for any related complications.

Results: During the study period, 37 patients received extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, and 9 were mobilized. Two hundred forty-two therapy sessions were conducted involving 47 700 feet of ambulation. Patients experienced the following complications: chugging (1 patient), decrease in flow rate (2 patients), bleeding at the cannula site (2 patients), neck hyperextension (1 patient), fear/anxiety (1 patient), and shortness of breath (2 patients). Bleeding and neck hyperextension led to discontinuation of therapy until the problems were resolved. No changes were made to the protocol.

Conclusions: Patients receiving extracorporeal membrane oxygenation before lung transplant, including those with femoral cannulation, can be mobilized safely with the use of an interprofessional ambulation protocol. Further evaluation is indicated, including research on clinical outcomes.

MeSH terms

  • Early Ambulation
  • Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation*
  • Humans
  • Intensive Care Units
  • Lung Transplantation* / adverse effects
  • Retrospective Studies