By Emily Dovolis Thomson, MHA
The beeping vibrato of pressure monitors, mechanical rhythm of the blood pump, low hum of the oxygenator and metronomic beat measuring heart rate: These are the sounds that emanate from a complex circuit of pumps, tubes, filters and monitors called ECMO, or extracorporeal membrane oxygenation. ECMO moves blood outside of the body through cannulae, or tubes, to an oxygenator that provides a gas exchange in the blood, removing carbon dioxide and replacing it with oxygen. The oxygenated blood is then warmed to the appropriate temperature and returned to the body using rhythms that mimic a beating heart.
When disease or trauma prevent the body from performing these life-sustaining rhythms, ECMO can take over.