What Parents Need to Know About Infant ECMO Treatment After a Birth Injury

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You barely got to hold your new baby before he was taken to the NICU for emergency treatment. The next thing you knew, you were looking through the glass as your child was hooked to an artificial lung for treatment of a serious birth injury—and no one can give you a definitive answer on his chances of survival.

Like you, many parents have felt powerless as their newborns received extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) as a treatment for a heart or lung condition at birth. This machine takes the blood from the patient via a large tube called cannula, re-oxygenates it, and feeds it back into the child in order to bypass his damaged heart or lungs.

This process allows oxygen-rich blood to keep the child’s brain, heart, vital organs and bodily tissues alive as doctors prepare to fix his underlying condition. As a baby’s heart and lungs improve, the child is weaned off the ECMO machine until he can recover on his own.

While this treatment has been successfully used to save lives, it does not come without its share of risks. Many patients on ECMO have suffered serious side effects, including:

  • Surgical problems – Some children have suffered injuries during the cannulation process, including arterial dissection, blood vessel perforation, hemorrhages, and problems placing the cannula in the correct location.
  • Bleeding – Over a third of all patients who receive ECMO will have some sort of bleeding issue. Doctors must constantly monitor the child’s activated clotting time and platelet counts to reduce the chances of serious side effects caused by blood loss.
  • Sepsis – The catheter tubes placed into your child’s neck may easily encourage bacterial growth, transmitting the infection to his bloodstream.
  • Blood clots – If blood begins to clot while traveling back and forth between the child and the ECMO machine, the baby could potentially suffer a thromboembolism, or a blockage caused by a piece of a blood clot. In many cases, doctors will administer the blood thinner Heparin to reduce clotting.
  • Low platelet count – Administering Heparin as an anticoagulant has its own risks. Thrombocytopenia, or a low blood platelet count, is a known complication of the drug and is a common occurrence with patients on ECMO treatment. Doctors may correct the condition by replacing Heparin with a different blood thinner.
  • Neurological injury – Children may experience hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy, strokes, unexplained coma, or even brain death following ECMO treatment.

Has Your Family Been Impacted By A Birth Injury?

If your family has been impacted by a birth injury you need to speak with an experienced birth injury attorney as soon as possible. Contact us online or call our office directly at 888.450.4456 to schedule a free consultation.