ECMO Program

Norton Children’s Hospital is one of the first hospitals in the U.S. to establish an extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) program. In 2012 Norton Children’s Hospital is recognized as an Extracorporeal Life Support Organization (ELSO) Center of Excellence. We were the tenth center in the country to join ELSO and have provided ECMO to more than 1,200 patients since 1985.

What is ECMO?


ECMO stands for extracorporeal membrane oxygenation. This means:

  • Extracorporeal – located outside the body
  • Membrane – an artificial lung
  • Oxygenation – used to move oxygen into the blood

ECMO is a machine that can provide life-saving therapy for children with lung and heart failure. ECMO consists of surgically placed cannulas, or tubes, in a child’s large vessels to allow an artificial pump and lung to provide heart support and oxygen to the body.

Reasons your child may need ECMO support include:

  • Congenital heart disease
  • Pneumonia
  • As a bridge to a heart transplant
  • Meconium aspiration syndrome: When a newborn inhales meconium before or during delivery and damages the lungs
  • Pulmonary hypertension: Abnormally high blood pressure in the lungs and arteries that supply blood to the lungs
  • Congenital diaphragmatic hernia: A protrusion of the stomach and/or intestines into the chest cavity
  • Respiratory distress syndrome: A lung condition usually found in infants and children for a variety of reasons

Collaborative care for your child on ECMO

Our pediatric ECMO team works closely with other physicians and programs within Norton Children’s Heart Institute, affiliated with the University of Louisville. We have a network of outreach diagnostic and treatment services throughout Kentucky and Southern Indiana.

Our providers from Norton Children’s Heart Institute and UofL Physicians are skilled in treating heart conditions in children. You can draw strength, comfort and confidence from our highly trained specialists, including:

  • Critical care nurses: Your child will have a critical care nurse caring for them at all times while on ECMO. The critical care nurse will not be assigned any other patients during this time.
  • ECMO specialists: Critical care nurses and respiratory therapists run the ECMO machine. The ECMO specialist will be at the bedside dedicated to monitoring the ECMO machine.
  • ECMO primers: Critical care nurses, respiratory therapists or perfusionists trained to run ECMO, initiate, troubleshoot and respond to clinical emergencies related to ECMO.
  • Intensive care physicians: Board-certified critical care physicians are specially trained to care for patients supported by ECMO. (can put a link to the neonatologist meet the team page and the critical care meet the team page).
  • Pediatric cardiothoracic and general surgeons: Surgeons have the expertise to place the special ECMO cannulas, or tubes, in your child’s large blood vessels. Surgeons work closely with the intensive care unit team to care for your child while on ECMO.

Why choose Norton Children’s Heart Institute

No other congenital heart surgery program in Kentucky, Ohio or Southern Indiana is ranked higher by the Society of Thoracic Surgeons than the Norton Children’s Pediatric Cardiothoracic Surgery Program.

  • Norton Children’s Hospital has been a pioneer in pediatric cardiothoracic surgery, performing Kentucky’s first pediatric heart transplant in 1986 and becoming the second site in the United States to perform an infant heart transplant.
  • Our board-certified and fellowship-trained pediatric cardiovascular surgeons are leaders in the field as clinicians and researchers.
  • More than 5,000 children a year visit Norton Children’s Heart Institute, affiliated with the University of Louisville, for advanced heart care.
  • Norton Children’s Heart Institute successfully performs more than 17,500 procedures a year.
  • The Society of Thoracic Surgeons ranked Norton Children’s Heart Institute among the best in the region after studying years of our patients’ outcomes and our ability to handle a range of pediatric heart conditions, including the most severe.
  • Norton Children’s Heart Institute has satellite outpatient centers in Bowling Green, Frankfort, Owensboro and Paducah; 28 tele-echocardiography locations in Kentucky and Southern Indiana; and six fetal echocardiography locations across Kentucky.
  • The American Board of Thoracic Surgery has certified the cardiothoracic surgeons at Norton Children’s Hospital with subspecialty certification in congenital heart surgery.
  • The Jennifer Lawrence Cardiac Intensive Care Unit is under construction to give our patients the most advanced care available.
  • Our multidisciplinary approach to pediatric heart surgery brings together our specialists in cardiothoracic surgery, cardiology, anesthesiology, cardiac critical care and other areas to create a complete care plan tailored for your child.
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Norton Children’s Heart Institute

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