Objective: To compare the survival, neurodevelopmental, and health outcomes of children with severe respiratory illness treated with and without extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO).
Design: Prospective collection of clinical and demographic data of all neonates reaching illness severity criteria, with follow-up at 8 and 20 months of age. Patients were assigned to treatment by the attending physician.
Patients: Consecutive sample of 74 neonates during a 24-month period with an alveolar-to-arterial gradient exceeding 620 for 8 or more hours.
Results: Eighteen (69%) of 26 neonates treated with conventional therapy survived to 20 months, in comparison with 43 (90%) of 48 neonates treated with ECMO. The conventionally treated group had significantly more chronic lung disease, longer duration of oxygen therapy, more chronic reactive airway disease, and more rehospitalizations than those treated with ECMO. Hospital charges were similar in the two groups. Macrocephaly was noted in 24% of those treated with ECMO and in none of the conventional group. Of those completing evaluation, 4 (24%) of 17 conventionally treated survivors and 20 (26%) of 38 ECMO-treated survivors had neurodevelopmental impairment.
Conclusion: Survivors of severe neonatal respiratory illness have significant pulmonary and neurodevelopmental impairment, regardless of the treatment used. Neonates treated with ECMO had neurodevelopmental outcomes similar to those of patients treated conventionally, but better pulmonary outcomes.