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Group again honors life-support program

Jan. 10, 2013, 9:34 AM

For the third straight time, Vanderbilt’s heart and lung life-support program has received the ELSO Award for Excellence in Life Support by the Extracorporeal Life Support Organization (ELSO).

Extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, or ECMO, is a life-support system that oxygenates the blood through a machine that then returns the oxygenated blood back into the body either through the arteries or veins.

The mobile machine is used both in and outside the operating room and can support vital heart and lung function for weeks at a time until organ function is returned.

Since 1989, Vanderbilt has treated more than 850 patients whose heart or lungs were failing and were at considerable risk of dying.

ECMO is particularly effective in term- and near-term infants with respiratory failure or congenital heart disease, by providing a crucial interim cardiopulmonary support both before and after surgery is performed. ECMO is also used in some adult patients with respiratory failure who do not respond to conventional management.

“ECMO has literally turned the tables on survival for these critically ill patients,” said John Pietsch, M.D., surgical director of ECMO services at Vanderbilt and associate professor of Pediatric Surgery and Pediatrics. “What was once a 70 percent likelihood of dying is now nearly a 70 percent chance for survival.”

One of the largest services of its kind in the nation, the ECMO team at the Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt consists of a broad array of specialists, including nurses, respiratory therapists, pharmacists, nutritionists and intensive care unit physicians and surgeons.

“It is an honor to work with such an accomplished team of ECMO specialists,” said Daphne Hardison, R.N., ECMO manager at Children’s Hospital. “Families often comment on the compassion, professionalism and working knowledge the team shows at the bedside.”

Vanderbilt also serves as a key referral destination for patients throughout the entire southeastern United States.

The ELSO designation as a center of excellence is awarded only to those ECMO services that reach the highest level of performance, innovation, satisfaction and quality. The ELSO Award of Excellence is recognized by the U.S. News & World Report and Parents magazine as one of the criteria used in ranking top institutions.

“We are so proud of our ECMO program, led by Dr. Pietsch and his team of outstanding specialists,” said Dai Chung, M.D., chairman of the Department of Pediatric Surgery. “Their work has led to our program being recognized as one of the best in the country.”

ELSO is an international consortium of health care professionals and scientists dedicated to the development and evaluation of new therapies for supporting failing organ systems.

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