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Children’s Mercy was one of the first hospitals in the U.S. to offer an Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO) Program. Since launching the program in 1987, more than 1100 children have been placed on ECMO, making it one of the highest-volume neonatal and pediatric programs in the country.

Platinum Center of Excellence


Award for Excellence in Life Support | Center of Excellence | Platinum

Children’s Mercy is recognized as a Platinum Center of Excellence by the Extracorporeal Life Support Organization (ELSO)—the highest distinction achieved by ECMO centers worldwide.

The highly regarded Platinum-level designation demonstrates that Children’s Mercy’s ECMO Program has:

  • High quality standards and processes in place
  • Specialized equipment and supplies
  • Carefully defined patient protocols
  • Advanced education for all staff members

Saving children’s lives with extracorporeal membrane oxygenation 

ECMO (extracorporeal membrane oxygenation) is a treatment used for children with life-threatening heart and/or lung problems. It provides long-term breathing and heart support.

Our medical team only uses ECMO when we have already attempted all the standard treatments for heart and lung problems. ECMO can support heart and lung function for days to weeks while we treat the child’s underlying illness.

The ECMO machine is similar to a heart-lung machine used for open-heart surgery. The surgeon places tubes into large blood vessels, usually on the right side of the neck. If your child has had heart surgery, the tubes may be placed in the chest. From these tubes, the blood is pumped by the ECMO machine through an artificial lung which adds oxygen and takes out carbon dioxide. The blood then returns to your child. The cycle is repeated many times each minute.

ECMO temporarily provides your child with the oxygen they need and removes carbon dioxide waste product until their heart or lung problems have healed. ECMO does not cure lung or heart disease; it merely supports your child and allows time for the lungs and heart to heal. That is why we offer ECMO only to children whose lung and/or heart disease might be able to heal.

The length of time a child spends on ECMO varies. We consider your child's age, the type of lung or heart disease they have, and any complications.

We strongly encourage visiting. Parents and family members in good health are encouraged to visit frequently. Social workers will help you identify places to stay near the hospital if necessary.

Children on ECMO usually receive sedation and pain medicine, but often are able to mildly wake up and respond. Depending on the disease process and cannula position(s), some patients are able to wake up and rehab while others are required to move less for additional safety reasons.

There are several things you can do to help us with your child's care. These include:

  • Bring special toys and comfort items
  • Make sure your child hears your voice and feels your touch
  • Record yourself reading stories or singing songs so they can be played when you are not here
  • Have family members draw or color pictures to display at your child's bedside
  • Keep a journal on your child's progress and refer to it when visiting with your child's doctors and nurses

Your child’s care team includes ECMO doctors, neonatologists, pediatric intensivists and surgeons. Once the care team decides to place your child on ECMO, they will be closely monitored by the team at all times.

While your child is on ECMO, you will have a critical care nurse at the bedside and an ECMO specialist in charge of the ECMO machine. The ECMO specialist has completed specialized training in ECMO circuit management and emergencies. The ECMO core team is also at the hospital 24/7 to assist the bedside ECMO specialists, troubleshoot and perform ECMO circuit procedures. Cardiac perfusionists are also involved in the care of children on ECMO, specifically those who underwent open heart surgery in the operating room.

ECMO survival outcomes

We are proud that our ECMO survival rates frequently exceed national averages.