Breathing Life Into Distressed Newborn Lungs

The Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO) Center at the Quentin & Elisabeth Alexander Neonatal Intensive Care Unit saves young lives.

It is special technology – a sophisticated heart-lung machine that oxygenates the blood of babies with breathing difficulties.

  • ECMO is for babies with very limited lung function. It does the job of the heart and lungs, passing life-giving oxygen into the blood and circulating it.
  • It gives babies with lung problems time to grow or heal.
  • It is most often used to support medical treatment of respiratory problems like pulmonary hypertension, pneumonia and others.

ECMO was a revolutionary procedure when it was developed in the 1970s and 80s. For decades, it was a significant lifesaver for preemies. ECMO helped increase preemie survival rates from 20 to 90 percent. In 1987, our neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) was among the first U.S. regional centers to offer ECMO.

In the 1990s, UH Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital was among the first to adopt inhaled nitric oxide therapy. Nitric oxide has largely supplanted ECMO as the standard of care for newborn pulmonary problems, but ECMO still plays a role in neonatal care.

ELSO Excellence in Life Support Award

Our ECMO Center received the Excellence in Life Support Award, an international recognition, by the Extracorporeal Life Support Organization (ELSO).

ECMO Important for Some Babies

Other technologies and treatments have supplanted ECMO for premature babies, but it remains an important option for certain babies with distressed lungs. And the pediatric pulmonology specialists at UH Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital have decades of high-volume experience in ECMO intervention.

Our ECMO Center was the first in the Cleveland area. It is among select ECMO Centers nationwide recognized with an Excellence in Life Support Award by the Extracorporeal Life Support Organization (ELSO).

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