When your child’s heart or lungs are not able to work on their own or with medicines or mechanical ventilation, extracorporeal life support (ECLS) can provide support long enough for them to heal and take over again. We provide all types of ECLS for children, including ECMO, VAD and total artificial heart.

How do the different kinds of ECLS help?

Extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO)

ECMO is a form of heart-lung bypass used to pump oxygenated blood when your child’s heart or lungs fail to function properly or need to rest.

There are 2 types of ECMO:

  • Venovenous ECMO. This type of ECMO does the work of your child’s lungs. Oxygen-poor blood is drawn through a tube (cannula) into a device that removes excess carbon dioxide and adds oxygen. The oxygen-rich blood is then returned to the body through another tube. Your child’s heart continues to pump blood to the body.
  • Venoarterial ECMO. This type of ECMO does the work of your child’s heart and lungs. Oxygen-poor blood is drawn through a thin tube (cannula) into a device that removes excess carbon dioxide and adds oxygen. Then the device pumps the oxygen-rich blood into an artery in your child’s body. This type of ECMO can be used to completely support your child’s heart if it fails.

If your child needs CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) because of cardiac arrest, we provide ECMO along with CPR. This approach, called extracorporeal CPR (ECPR), can help save a child’s life.

We can bring your child to Seattle Children’s from another hospital on ECMO if they need a heart transplant or other form of advanced care.

Ventricular assist device (VAD)

A VAD is a mechanical heart pump that a surgeon can implant inside or outside your child’s chest to provide support for the heart as it recovers from injury or to help keep your child alive until heart transplantation.

Learn more about our VAD program.

What’s special about ECLS at Seattle Children’s?

  • Seattle Children’s has the largest ECLS program for babies, children and teens in the Northwest. We provide all types of ECLS, including ECMO, VAD and total artificial heart.
  • Our team of ECLS experts includes cardiopulmonary perfusionists, heart surgeons, general surgeons, intensivists, newborn specialists (neonatologists) and nurses or respiratory therapists with advanced ECMO training.
  • We have been named a Center of Excellence by the Extracorporeal Life Support Organization (ELSO), a group of healthcare professionals and scientists from around the world who work to improve care. Drs. Michael McMullan and Thomas V. Brogan are members of the ELSO Steering Committee.
  • Surgeries for some high-risk conditions can be performed at Seattle Children’s only because we can use ECLS for a time after surgery to temporarily sustain heart function in children who would not be able to survive and recover without it.
  • Our doctors conduct research to understand the factors that help children do better on ECLS. This research helps our team refine and improve treatment plans as we seek to better support patients and reduce complications. Seattle Children’s was recently selected as 1 of only 2 sites on the West Coast for the Pumps for Kids, Infants and Neonates (PumpKIN) trial. It will test a new mechanical heart-assist device for very young children and newborns. This research is sponsored by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.

Who’s on the team?

Dr. McMullan is director of Mechanical Cardiac Support and ECLS Services. Dr. Brogan and Dr. Robert L. Mazor are associate directors of ECMO.

Seattle Children’s ECMO nurses and respiratory therapists are specialists with advanced ECMO training. These specialists monitor a child’s ECMO pump 24 hours a day.

In 2013, Seattle Children’s started the Natalie Razore Rockstar ECMO Fellowship to provide advanced training for doctors working in this critical area of care.

Contact Us

Contact the Heart Center at 206-987-2015 for a referral, a second opinion or more information.