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ECMO team recognized for exceptional care of patients needing advanced life support

The University Health team treating critically ill patients with ECMO advanced life support has earned the 2024 ELSO Gold Level Award of Excellence.

ECMO, which stands for extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, is a highly sophisticated treatment that uses a heart-lung machine to pump a patient’s blood outside the body where carbon dioxide is removed, oxygen is added and the invigorated blood is pumped back into the patient.

ECMO is often a last resort for patients whose heart and lungs are failing because of respiratory distress, a heart attack, pneumonia, organ transplantation or other conditions.

“It is wonderful to see this recognition for years of hard work to create a quality-focused and successful team who can take care of the sickest of the sick,” said Casey Howard, director of ECMO & Advanced Technologies at University Health and one of the founding staff members of the program.

Howard said he is especially proud that the ECMO team has the specialized training needed to care for all categories of University Health patients, from the smallest neonatal babies to the oldest adults. Those capabilities have contributed to the ECMO program growing rapidly in the past few years.

Prior to the pandemic, the program primarily treated infants and children. However, as COVID-19 led to severe heart and lung problems, University Health’s ECMO program expanded to care for adults. It kept a severely ill pregnant woman alive, and enabled her to deliver a healthy baby.

In awarding University Health this three-year designation for the third consecutive time, ELSO, the Extracorporeal Life Support Organization, said it is recognizing exceptional patient care.

“It also demonstrates to the health care community an assurance of high quality standards, specialized equipment and supplies, defined patient protocols and advanced education of all staff members,” the organization said.

The award application process is rigorous, requiring 80 pages of detailed documentation on patient care, staff training and support of ELSO’s evidence-based guidelines. U.S. News & World Report recognizes the ELSO award as one criterion when naming its list of top health care institutions.

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