03:50 AM

ECMO: Saving Lives for a Quarter Century

For more than a quarter century, Children's Mercy has been saving lives with ECMO (Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation) treatment for children having difficulty getting oxygen to their bodies because their lungs or heart are not working adequately.

Since starting in 1987 with a modified kidney dialysis machine, Children's Mercy has treated some 630 ECMO patients. Ours was the first neonatal program in the region and only the 16th in the country when we began. Children's Mercy now has five state-of-the-art ECMO machines and treats about 35 patients a year.

"Many children who would have otherwise died have survived with ECMO," said Barb Haney, RNC-NIC, MSN, CPNP-AC, ECMO Coordinator, who has been with the ECMO program since the beginning.

Brent Conley of Independence, Mo., was among the first wave of ECMO patients. "He was ECMO patient number 22; I've always remembered that," said Brent's mother, Linda Conley. "It's our lucky number!"

Today Brent is a new member of the Grain Valley, Mo., Police Department, having graduated from UMKC and the Blue River Police Academy. But back in January 1989, he was a very sick newborn brought to Children's Mercy and connected to the hospital's first ECMO pump when he was only three days old. The machine helped clear his lungs and saved his life.

ECMO is the highest form of life support. It does not cure lung or heart disease; it merely supports the child by taking over the functions of the lungs and heart, allowing those organs to rest and heal. A surgeon places tubes in large blood vessels, usually on the right side of the neck. From these tubes, blood is pumped outside the body to an artificial lung that adds oxygen and takes out carbon dioxide. The blood then returns to the child. This cycle is repeated many times each minute. Babies are usually on the ECMO machine for seven to 10 days; older pediatric patients may be connected for several weeks.

"Most patients go home healthy and normal, as if they'd never been sick," Barb said.

The Children's Mercy ECMO program has a record of excellence, having won the ELSO (Extracorporeal Life Support Organization) Award of Excellence four times. The two-year award recognizes excellence in training, education, quality and outcomes. Children's Mercy meets or exceeds survival rates compared to ELSO national outcomes.

Barb and her colleagues also have won the undying gratitude of dozens of parents and patients.

"We will never forget you," Ms. Conley told Barb recently as she and Brent toured the hospital's ECMO facilities.

Barb isn't through with Brent. She is recruiting him for a study to document the long-term health of some of the first patients to receive ECMO therapy who are now adults. "There are a lot of studies looking at patients from ages two to seven or so, but there have not been a lot of studies to determine health challenges former ECMO patients may have at age 20 or 25," Barb said. "It's a multi-institutional study that we're going to participate in."


The Children's Mercy ECMO program has treated more than 600 patients over the past 25 years, including Brent Conley, who was ECMO patient number 22 back in January 1989. Brent, who is now a Grain Valley, Mo., police officer, recently visited the ECMO unit. ECMO equipment has advanced by about four generations since Brent was treated on CMH's first unit, a converted dialysis pump.


During his homecoming visit to the CMH ECMO unit, Brent Conley saw proof of his legacy at Children's Mercy. His picture as a youngster is part of a collage of ECMO patients that hangs in the hallway outside the Intensive Care Nursery ECMO room. (He's the second photo down on the right-hand column of pictures!)

Barb, Brent and his mom

Barb Haney, RNC-NIC, MSN, CPNP-AC, ECMO Coordinator, (left), has been with the Children's Mercy ECMO program since its beginning in 1987, helping patients such as Brent Conley and earning the eternal gratitude of parents such as Brent's mother, Linda Conley of Independence, Mo. (right).