Children's Hospital Media and Press Relations
Department of Pediatrics Newsletter Archive
Doctors at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt Using ECMO to Save Flu Patients
February 18, 2014
Media Contact:
Ashley Culver
(615) 322-4747

Flu season has been particularly brutal this year. So far, there have been 552 hospitalizations in Middle Tennessee with 22 flu-related deaths; of those 42 of the hospitalizations and two of the deaths have been in children.

Doctors at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt are using Extra Corporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO) machines to help keep the sickest flu patients alive. The machine puts oxygen in a patient's blood and then pumps it to the heart.

Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital’s ECMO program serves a large population from middle and eastern Tennessee, the eastern Carolinas, southern Kentucky and northern Georgia and Alabama. Since 1989, when the ECMO program was founded, more than 900 infant, children and adult patients have used the ECMO pump to support weakened lungs and hearts, giving them a chance to survive life-threatening illnesses.

“We are using ECMO on patients who are extremely sick and likely to die from complications of the respiratory virus,” said John Pietsch, M.D., the surgical director of ECMO. “With ECMO support, patients with lung failure have a 70-80 percent survival rate. ECMO gives these children the time they need for their bodies to have a chance to recover.”

Pietsch says they have used ECMO to treat five pediatric flu patients so far this flu season, including Karly Herman’s 9-month-old son, Eli. She says his symptoms started with a fever of 102.

“I was giving him a fever reducer throughout the night and by the morning I noticed his color had changed and he was having difficulty breathing,” Herman said. “I knew it was serious and brought him straight to his pediatrician.”

On Jan. 3, Eli’s pediatrician sent him to Children’s Hospital where he was tested and confirmed positive for flu. Eli was hooked up to a ventilator in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit for a week and later placed on ECMO for five days. He spent 20 days in the hospital.

“I was terrified. We did not know if he was going to make it,” Herman said. “His doctors said he beat all the odds. We are so grateful for everything his doctors, nurses and the ECMO care team did to save his life.”

Pietsch advises parents to contact their pediatrician when their child is showing flu-like symptoms. When the flu is caught within the first 24 hours Tamiflu can help prevent serious disease. Your pediatrician can also help assess if the child is sick enough to require hospitalization.

February is typically the peak of flu season, and doctors at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital say it’s not too late to get vaccinated. 

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