Why is my child so sick?

Your child may be very sick with severe lung disease or respiratory failure. When the lungs and heart work well together they allow blood to pick up oxygen from the air breathed into the lung and get rid of waste gases like carbon dioxide. When the lungs and heart are failing, blood that goes through the lungs doesn't pick up enough oxygen. Or your child may have a very sick heart. In this case, the heart is too sick, perhaps with an infection, to pump blood to the lungs or to the rest of the body.

The usual ways to help these problems include:

  • Oxygen
  • A breathing machine called a ventilator
  • Several medications that relax the blood vessels between the heart and lungs
  • Medications to support the heart and blood pressure

The ventilator and the medicines can only help so much. Sometimes the lungs and heart of the child are too sick to respond to these treatments. Your child is one of those few who is not helped by our usual treatments. The hope for children like yours comes from taking over the work of the heart and/or lungs and allowing them to rest and heal.

A therapy called Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation, or ECMO, uses an artificial lung and heart to help children whose lungs or heart can't work well enough to keep the rest of the body healthy. Your child's doctor can give you more details about your child's specific disease.