For patients and families

Get answers to frequently asked questions about ECMO.

Refer a patient

  • Call OHSU’s Patient Transfer Center (providers only): 503-494-7000.
  • Ask for the on-call ECMO attending physician.
  • Non-urgent questions: 

OHSU’s ECMO (Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation) program provides state-of-the-art care for adults with advanced heart or respiratory failure. Our team is available to consult with doctors at any time.

We provide ground or air transport for ECMO patients in:

  • Oregon
  • Washington
  • Idaho
  • Montana
  • Northern California
  • Alaska

We are:

  • One of 42 hospitals worldwide with the Center of Excellence — Platinum Level designation from the Extracorporeal Life Support Organization.
  • The first hospital in the Pacific Northwest to receive Advanced Certification in Heart Failure from The Joint Commission, which accredits and certifies health care organizations and programs throughout the U.S.

What is ECMO?

ECMO is a device that does the work of the heart and lungs outside the body, letting them rest and heal after injury. ECMO typically draws blood from a vein, adds oxygen to and removes carbon dioxide from the blood, then returns the blood into an artery or vein.

Venovenous (VV) ECMO: The ECMO device supports the lungs.

Venoarterial (VA) ECMO: The ECMO device supports the heart and lungs.

When to refer a patient for ECMO

Call OHSU’s Patient Transfer Center if your patient has any of these signs, symptoms or conditions.

Respiratory problems

Hypoxemic respiratory failure: Not enough oxygen in the blood, as can be seen with:

  • Acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS)
  • Bacterial or viral pneumonia
  • Pulmonary contusion
  • Pulmonary embolus

Hypercapnic respiratory failure: Too much carbon dioxide in the blood, as can be seen with:

  • Asthma
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • Severe air leak syndromes

Heart problems

  • Cardiogenic shock: The heart cannot pump enough blood to the organs, as can be seen with:
    • Myocardial infarction
    • Refractory arrhythmia
    • Myocarditis
    • Cardiotoxic medication overdose
    • Pulmonary embolus
  • Hypothermia

What happens when you call

When you call us, a consult team will gather to discuss your patient and work with you to decide whether your patient should come to OHSU.

If your patient doesn’t need treatment at OHSU, we can help you create a care plan.

If your patient needs treatment at OHSU, we will:

  • Send a team with a portable ECMO machine to your patient and begin treatment.
  • Bring your patient to OHSU in an ambulance, or in a Life Flight Network helicopter or airplane.
  • Care for your patient in our medical, cardiac or trauma ICU.

You’ll remain a partner in your patient’s care through OHSU Connect, which provides secure, HIPAA-compliant, online access to OHSU's electronic medical records system (Epic).