ECMO machines have kept 68% of critically ill COVID-19 patients alive 

Experimental coronavirus treatment that pumps oxygen into the blood of patients on ventilators improves their survival rates three-fold, early data suggests

  • Early research out of Japan showed success in doctors using ECMO machines to treat coronavirus patients aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship
  • The machines pump and oxygenate a patient’s blood outside the body, which allows the heart and lungs to rest
  • Researchers looked at 32 critically ill COVID-19 patients who were placed on ECMO machines at nine different hospitals 
  • After 24 days, 17 patients were still on the machines and five patients were off them, meaning a 68% survival rate 
  • Here’s how to help people impacted by Covid-19

A machine that saturates the blood with oxygen is showing promise in treating severely ill coronavirus patients, a new study finds.

Researchers from several hospitals, led by West Virginia University, looked at 32 patients who were placed on Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO) machines.

The machine, typically used for those with heart and lung issues, pumps and oxygenates a patient’s blood outside the body, which allows the heart and lungs to rest.

More than two-thirds of patients – 68 percent – were still alive after being put on the machines, after conventional treatments had failed to improve their conditions.

A new study that looked at 32 patients placed on ECMO machines for 24 days showed 17 patients were still on the machines and five patients were off them, meaning a 68% survival rate (above)

A new study that looked at 32 patients placed on ECMO machines for 24 days showed 17 patients were still on the machines and five patients were off them, meaning a 68% survival rate (above)

Early research out of Japan showed success in doctors using ECMO machines to treat coronavirus patients aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship. Pictured: Medical workers transfer a COVID-19 patient in severe and critical condition undergoing ECMO in Wuhan, China, April 12

Early research out of Japan showed success in doctors using ECMO machines to treat coronavirus patients aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship. Pictured: Medical workers transfer a COVID-19 patient in severe and critical condition undergoing ECMO in Wuhan, China, April 12

The machines pump and oxygenate a patient's blood outside the body, which allows the heart and lungs to rest. Pictured: A nurse takes care of a COVID-19 patient in the ECMO department in the Karolinska hospital in Solna, near Stockholm, Sweden, April 19

The machines pump and oxygenate a patient’s blood outside the body, which allows the heart and lungs to rest. Pictured: A nurse takes care of a COVID-19 patient in the ECMO department in the Karolinska hospital in Solna, near Stockholm, Sweden, April 19

Researchers in Japan were among the first, if not the first, to report that ECMO appeared to be help patients with the virus.

Doctors began using the machines to treat patients who were stuck aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship docked in Yokohama. 

The machines are not available at every hospital and, because they are costly and intensive, they are not a practical solution for ventilator shortages. 

But the treatment has shown promise for patients that haven’t responded to standard therapies and experimental drugs.

There are currently 220 coronavirus patients on ECMO in North America and 83 in Europe, according to the Extracorporeal Life Support Organization.

And of all cases discharged from the hospital – 136 of 584 – 58 of them (42 percent) were discharged alive. 

For the new study, published in the American Society for Artificial Internal Organs Journal, the team looked at 32 patients placed on ECMO machines between March 17 and April at nine different hospitals.

Over the 24-day study period, 17 patients remained on ECMO and five patients were extubated after being removed from ECMO. 

Of those five patients, four received intravenous steroids, three were given antiviral medications, two received drugs that block a substance produced at the site of inflammation and one was given hydroxychloroquine.

Additionally, one of the five patients was discharged from the hospital.  

And, of the original 32 patients, 10 died either prior to or shortly after medical staff removed their tracheotomy tubes.

This means the survival rate was 68 percent – three times the survival rate of patients just using a ventilator, which is between 10 and 20 percent.

The analysis ‘suggests that ECMO may play a useful role in salvaging select critically ill patients with COVID-19’ the authors wrote

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