The ECMO Transport Program at Brigham and Women’s Hospital provides lifesaving treatment to patients whose heart and/or lungs are failing. The program arranges for Brigham ECMO specialists to travel to other hospitals throughout New England and bring patients back to The Lung Center for complex pulmonary care. It’s the only active ECMO Transport Program in Boston.
The Brigham’s ECMO Transport Program is led by Hari Mallidi, MD, executive director, ECMO, Heart & Vascular Center, Raghu R. Seethala, MD, ECMO medical director at the Brigham, and Nirmal Sharma, MD, medical director of the Brigham’s Lung Transplantation Program.
What is ECMO treatment?
ECMO stands for extracorporeal membrane oxygenation. It’s an advanced type of mechanical life support that removes blood from the body, oxygenates and removes carbon dioxide from that blood, and then returns the blood to the body. This allows the patient’s damaged lungs and/or heart time to recover.
There are two kinds of ECMO:
- Venoarterial, which supports the heart and the lungs
- Venovenous, which is oxygenation support only for the lungs
Brigham patient survives life-threatening severe asthma
The Brigham’s ECMO Transport Program received its first patient in September 2020. Samah Othman had a life-threatening case of acute severe asthma (also known as status asthmaticus). She was on a ventilator in a Framingham, Massachusetts hospital. Samah’s physicians wanted to arrange a transfer to the Brigham, but she was too sick to endure the transport.
“The Brigham and Women’s Hospital ECMO team pulled Samah from an imminent dark fate back to the beauty of life. We owe our lives to that machine called “ECMO” and of course all the doctors, nurses, scientists, educators and all people with big merciful hearts who stood behind this miraculous operation.”Yasser Elaskalani, Samah’s husband
Knowing Samah wasn’t stable enough to move and would not survive without ECMO, the Brigham’s ECMO team traveled to the Framingham hospital via Boston MedFlight. After getting emergency privileges to cannulate her on-site, the Brigham ECMO specialists put Samah on ECMO. The team travelled with Samah to the Brigham’s Thoracic Surgical Intensive Care Unit so that she could receive complex care.
“The Brigham and Women’s Hospital ECMO team pulled Samah from an imminent dark fate back to the beauty of life,” said Yasser Elaskalani, Samah’s husband. “We owe our lives to that machine called “ECMO” and of course all the doctors, nurses, scientists, educators and all people with big merciful hearts who stood behind this miraculous operation.”
Samah’s made a full recovery and is feeling well. Watch this interview with Samah, Yasser and the Brigham ECMO team.
How does the ECMO Transport Program work?
“The ECMO Transport Program is for patients in ICUs at hospitals who are very sick with severe respiratory failure and/or cardiac failure and aren’t responding to conventional therapies,” said Dr. Sharma. “If the physicians taking care of these patients don’t have ECMO capability at their hospital, they can reach out to the Brigham’s ECMO specialists. We can travel to their hospital, cannulate the patient on-site, put them on ECMO and transport them back to the Brigham to continue the patient’s complex care.”
Cannulation is when a health care provider places tubes (also called cannula) in a patient’s large veins and arteries in the legs, neck or chest. The ECMO machine is then connected to the patient through these tubes.
“Our ECMO Transport Program means the difference between life and death for some patients. The Brigham can give patients the opportunity for life.”Nirmal Sharma, MD
Treatment for COVID-19 and a bridge to heart and lung transplants
Patients who require ECMO treatment due to COVID-19 infection are eligible for transfer. ECMO also serves as a bridge for patients with severe heart and respiratory failure prior to and following surgery, including heart and lung transplantation. In select cases, the Brigham can provide advanced therapy, like a ventricular assist device (VAD), or heart transplant or lung transplant, for patients who don’t recover from their underlying heart or lung disease.
Giving patients and families hope
“We want patients like Samah to come to the Brigham because we have an outstanding team of experts who specialize in management of severe lung diseases,” said Dr. Sharma. “In addition, Brigham has a robust lung and heart transplant program.”
Dr. Sharma believes that this program could potentially save the lives of 30 to 40 patients each year. The provider at the Framingham hospital said that their department has cared for several patients who might have survived had an ECMO Transport Program like the Brigham’s existed in the last few years.
“The opportunity is clear from a patient perspective,” said Dr. Sharma. “Our ECMO Transport Program means the difference between life and death for some patients. The Brigham can give patients the opportunity for life.”
Contact the ECMO Transport Program
To learn more about the ECMO Transport Program, please call the Brigham Health Access Center at 617-732-8903 or 877-637-3337.