The University of Arizona

UA Medical Center Receives Award for Excellence in Life Support

By Darci Slaten, Arizona Health Sciences Center | July 17, 2013
Members of the UA Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO) team. ECMO is an advanced technology that provides heart and lung functions to a patient whose heart and/or lungs are so damaged they are unable to work unassisted. It typically is used to support a patient awaiting surgery, or gives the patient’s organs time to heal from surgery or disease.
Members of the UA Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO) team. ECMO is an advanced technology that provides heart and lung functions to a patient whose heart and/or lungs are so damaged they are unable to work unassisted. It typically is used to support a patient awaiting surgery, or gives the patient’s organs time to heal from surgery or disease.

The University of Arizona Medical Center's ECMO program has been honored nationally. ECMO is a form of advanced life support for the heart and lungs used on very critically ill patients.

Any ground and air transport relies on the Mobile Intensive Care Program team members.
Any ground and air transport relies on the Mobile Intensive Care Program team members.

The Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation Services Program at The University of Arizona Medical Center - University Campus and Diamond Children's has received the ELSO Award for Excellence in Life Support.

Granted by the Extracorporeal Life Support Organization, or ELSO, the award signifies a commitment to exceptional patient care and demonstrates an assurance of high quality standards, specialized equipment and supplies, defined patient protocols and advanced education to all staff members.

The medical director of the overall program is pediatric intensivist Dr. Robyn Meyer, a UA associate professor in the critical care section of the department of pediatrics.

Critical care specialist Dr. Yuval Raz, a UA assistant professor in the department of medicine, is the adult medical director. Cardiothoracic surgeon Dr. Jess Thompson, an assistant professor in the department of surgery and the division of cardiothoracic surgery, is the surgical director.

Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation, or ECMO, is a form of advanced life support for the heart and lungs. It is used when a patient is so critically ill that no other support is adequate.

A pump circulates blood through a circuit of tubing supporting heart function and through an "oxygenator," which functions as an artificial lung. It is used to help patients of all ages with life-threatening diseases that impair heart and/or lung function.

ECMO is often used on patients waiting for heart or lung transplant. Most patients who need ECMO are almost certain to die without this level of support.

"ECMO is a highly specialized and critical procedure requiring a well-trained multidisciplinary team to accomplish," Meyer said.

"The ECMO circuit is managed on a moment to moment basis by adult and pediatric intensivists and ECMO specialists – ICU nurses who have completed specialized advanced training," Meyer said. "Moreover, the ECMO team also includes perfusionists, pharmacists, nutritionists, respiratory therapists, social workers, case managers, blood bank staff and others who are essential to caring for our ECMO patients."

One such patient whose life was recently saved by ECMO was 3-month-old Bryanna Robles, who nearly died from pertussis, also known as whooping cough.

"If it wasn't for ECMO, Bryanna surely would not have survived," Meyer said.

And the program continues to expand.

Previously, the program utilized only ground transport services, with a radius of approximately 250 miles. More recently, the program added airplane transport services, greatly expanding the number of facilities to which the program can offer service.

Utilizing an airplane, the ECMO team has transported patients from as far away as Flagstaff, Ariz. and also New Mexico, New Jersey and Washington state.

"We can reach patients in need of ECMO, but are in a hospital that doesn't have the equipment or personnel necessary to initiate ECMO," Thompson said. 

The ECMO program has developed a rapid-response ECMO team, consisting of a cardiothoracic surgeon, a perfusionist and an ICU nurse who travel to the facility and initiate ECMO on the patient. 

The patient is then carefully transported via ground ambulance or airplane back to UAMC for continued treatment.

"By partnering with hospitals that don't have ECMO services, we are now able to offer advanced life-saving therapy to patients that previously didn't have access to it," Thompson said.

"As one of the busiest ECMO centers in the Southwest, we are routinely consulted regarding ECMO-dependent patients who require advanced organ-failure therapy," Thompson said. "Often, ECMO is begun by another facility, and then the patient is transported to our facility because of our capacity to provide transplantation or long-term mechanical circulatory support."

Meyer said the award is an honor for the team.

"We are the only facility in Southern Arizona with ECMO services," Meyer said, "and we are committed to providing the best care possible to our patients."

Contacts

Media Contact:

Darci Slaten

Arizona Health Sciences Center

520-626-7217

darci@peds.arizona.edu