Breath of life – our children's ECMO service

For most of us, most of the time, getting oxygen into our bodies happens without a moment’s thought – we simply breathe in the air around us.

But sometimes, with severe illness, our heart or lungs simply aren’t working well enough to get the vital oxygen on board.

A special method known as ECMO (extracoporeal membrane oxygenation) can be used as a last resort for the most severely ill patients. ECMO is where we use a machine to take blood from the body, add oxygen to the blood outside the body, and then return it into the body – a bit like an artificial lung.

At Southampton we have a specialist group that runs our ECMO service for children. They are a vital part of our children’s heart surgery team. Dr Vanessa Stanley leads the ECMO service and ensures we monitor our results, train new staff and continue to improve our care.

Only a small number of children and new born babies need the ECMO service each year – less than twenty over the last two years. It is thought that only two out of every hundred children having heart surgery will need ECMO.

Our results compare well to the international standards – 60% of our babies that need ECMO after heart surgery survive, the international figure from 2010 was 46%.

Dr Stanley comments: “It is thanks to the fantastic multidisciplinary team that we have at Southampton and their dedication and expertise that we are able to offer this life saving service to the sickest children in our region and beyond.  We are extremely proud of this service and the fantastic results that we achieve”