Can ECMO machines save critical COVID patients?

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (WDEF) – ECMO machines are just one of many tools being used to fight against COVID in hospitals nationwide – and with the delta variant raging, they’re being used more than ever.

The only problem is, there isn’t enough manpower in hospitals to use operate them.

“Blood is removed from the patient and then pumped through an artificial lung outside the body where oxygen is put and carbon dioxide is removed from the blood and then its returned to the patient,” says Dr. Jess Tucker, the director of ECMO services with CHI Memorial.

He says there isn’t yet a general scientific consensus yet on how effective the machines are in saving COVID patients.

Some do well.

“I’ve had a number of patients go on ECMO here and then walk into my clinic in a few months doing great and leading normal lives,” says Dr. Turner.

And others, well, not so well.

“Some patients who are so sick that they’re in multiple organ failure, they’re not likely to benefit from ECMO and their mortality rate is going to be very high regardless,” he explains.

And due to the complexity involved with running the machines, they require a lot of training that can take months.

“The length of training that people have to go through is substantial and can’t really be done in a last minute fashion.”

Dr. Turner says it’s best not to leave it to chance.

“We are going to do our best to treat you and to save you. But getting vaccinated is job number one.”

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