Extracorporeal Life Support Program (ECLS)
When your child’s heart or lungs are failing – and need more than medicine or mechanical ventilation – extracorporeal life support (ECLS) can take over long enough for them to heal, or until your child gets a transplant.
We provide all types of ECLS for children, including
- Extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO)
- Ventricular assist devices (VAD), including total artificial heart
Seattle Children's is the only hospital on the West Coast that can provide mobile ECMO for children who would normally be considered too fragile to be moved.
What’s special about Seattle Children’s ECLS?
We have the largest ECLS program for babies, children and teens in the Northwest.
- The ECLS team at Seattle Children’s supports more patients on ECLS than anywhere else in our region. Our higher patient numbers means greater expertise.
- The team includes cardiopulmonary perfusionists, cardiac surgeons, general surgeons, intensivists, newborn specialists (neonatologists) and nurses or respiratory therapists with advanced ECMO training.
- These experienced experts work together closely to understand your child’s unique situation and meet their needs during their time on ECMO and after.
“It was such a difficult journey because I thought I’d lose her so many times. I wondered if her care team could keep her alive despite all she went through, and they did an amazing job. I can’t thank them enough. They’re like a second family to her.” ~ Jamie Gonzalez, mother of Mya
Before her fourth birthday, Mya Garcia was on ECMO several times and went through 2 heart transplants. Now a thriving teen, she fought hard to stay alive. At every turn, her team at Seattle Children’s Heart Center applied the most advanced treatments available and provided the support that gave her family hope. Read more.
- Seattle Children’s has received the Award for Excellence in Life Support from the international Extracorporeal Life Support Organization. This award reflects our commitment to patient safety and providing advanced, world-class care for the most critically ill children.
- Surgeries for some high-risk conditions can be done at Seattle Children’s only because we offer ECLS. For a while after surgery, ECLS can sustain heart function in children who would not be able to survive and recover without it.
- Whatever types of care your child needs, we will help your family through this experience. We will discuss your child’s condition and treatment options in ways you understand and involve you in every decision.
- Many of our patients on ECLS come from outside the Seattle area. We know you may be away from your home, community and usual support systems while dealing with your child’s critical illness. We are here to help meet the needs of you and your whole family during this time.
- Our child life specialists know how to help children understand their illnesses and treatments in ways that make sense for their age.
- Seattle Children’s has many resources, from financial to spiritual, to support your child and your family and make the journey as smooth as possible.
- Read more about the supportive care we offer.
“The staff at Seattle Children’s was so supportive while everything was happening. We were lucky to have this program and the technology so close to home.” ~ Michael Xenakis, father of Jude
More than 700 families had a child on ECMO in the first 25 years we offered this service at Seattle Children’s. To mark the 25th anniversary, we invited these families to a reunion to meet each other, share their experiences and celebrate where they are today. Read more.
- Our doctors do research to understand the factors that help children do better on ECLS. This research helps our team refine and improve treatment plans, better support patients and reduce complications.
- Seattle Children’s created ECMO simulation systems that are used around the world. ECMO teams, here and elsewhere, use the systems to develop and practice their skills so they are highly prepared to provide this specialized care when a child is in crisis. Read more.
How do different kinds of ECLS help?
ECMO is a form of heart-lung bypass used to pump oxygenated blood when your child’s heart or lungs do not 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 thin 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 stops working.
When Garrett Smith was born gasping for air, doctors quickly realized he needed to be transferred to Seattle Children’s, where he could be placed on ECMO. For 6 weeks, this special form of life support kept oxygen moving through his bloodstream and let his lungs, and then his heart too, rest until they were ready to take over. Read more.
If your child needs CPR because of cardiac arrest, we provide ECMO along with CPR. This approach, called extracorporeal CPR, can help save your child’s life. Read more about ECPR.
Our mobile ECMO service can bring critically ill children who are on an ECMO circuit to Seattle Children’s from anywhere within the Alaska, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington region.
This highly skilled and coordinated team works in partnership with Airlift Northwest. The mobile ECMO team includes a cardiac surgeon, a cardiac intensivist, a cardiopulmonary perfusionist (ECMO specialist), an intensive care nurse and an Airlift Northwest flight nurse.
Transport options include ambulance, helicopter or fixed-wing aircraft.
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 they can get a heart transplant. Learn more about our VAD program.
Who’s on the team?
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.
Resources for Patients and Families
- ECMO/ECLS Parent Handbook (PDF) (Spanish)
- Learn about Heart Center resources such as useful links, videos and recommended reading for you and your family.
Providers, see how to refer a patient.