You barely remember the moment when the doctor said that your baby was born with a heart defect. Everything became like a nightmare as they took you to his room, showed you the machine he would need to remain hooked to for weeks, and deflected your questions about how likely he was to recover.
While it is frightening to see your child hooked to an ECMO machine, the treatment has proved effective for many infants with birth injuries. The ECMO adds oxygen to your baby’s bloodstream, putting less of a strain on his heart and lungs as it keeps his body healthy. Infants may be placed on ECMO machines while they wait for a heart transplant, or “weaned off” the treatment after surgery to allow their bodies to adjust to the strain of supporting themselves.
The biggest complication that occurs with infant ECMO treatment is bleeding problems. Parents should ask their child’s doctor and surgeon about the risks of:
- Hemorrhage – Excessive bleeding, most notably in the lungs, is a known risk of ECMO.
- Heart attack – In some cases, deoxygenated blood can remain in the heart or aorta, causing a blood clot that leads to a cardiac blockage.
- Hypoxia – While the ECMO machine can restore oxygen to a child’s bloodstream, it cannot control which of the baby’s systems will receive it first. The blood may take a while to flow through the body, depriving the heart and brain of the adequate oxygen levels they need to function properly.
All parents should be made aware of the bleeding risks of ECMO devices before the hospital begins treatment on their children. If someone you know suspects that their baby was injured with artificial lung technology, feel free to pass on this article to them via email, Facebook or Google+.