ECMO is a serious, life-saving procedure. Your child was placed on ECMO because of the seriousness of his disease. However, ECMO is not without risks. The risks and complications are discussed with you by the ECMO physician when you give permission to place your child on ECMO. Here is a review of the possible complications. If you have any other questions ask your child's doctor.
The most common complication is bleeding. This may be due to the heparin that is given to prevent clotting of the blood. Sometimes this can lead to internal bleeding. The most serious place in which bleeding may occur is in the brain. Bleeding in the brain, when it is extremely severe, may lead to brain damage. If bleeding of any kind occurs, the problem will be discussed with you in detail.
The surgical procedure used to place the cannulas into the neck or groin requires clamping of veins (internal jugular or femoral vein) or an artery (right common carotid artery). The right carotid artery is one of the four arteries that supply the major blood flow to the brain. In most children the other three arteries take over and carry plenty of blood to the brain. The artery and/or vein are permanently tied closed after ECMO. The body will grow new smaller vessels to take over the job of the large vessels.
Your child will be receiving transfusions of blood and other blood products. This may slightly increase the risk of infection from hepatitis and AIDS. All blood products are screened carefully before use, but purity cannot be absolutely guaranteed. Your child will be monitored for any signs of infection from blood transfusions.