Defying the odds: An exemplary ECMO case study

Against the odds, a multidisciplinary team in the emergency department used lifesaving measures to revive a woman who wasn’t breathing when her frantic husband pulled up to the front door of the University Hospital Emergency Department.

“The patient woke up at home that morning with chest pain and shortness of breath, so she and her husband headed to the hospital, but she stopped breathing on the drive here,” said Jenna Meier Payne, BSN, RN, CCRN, clinical nurse specialist.

The team used Extracorporeal Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (ECPR). ECPR is a combination of CPR and Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO). ECMO is lifesaving therapy that pulls the patient’s blood out of their body, circulates it though an artificial lung and pushes the oxygenated blood back into the patient.

The case was the most powerful example of the ECPR program since its inception in March 2019, and the impact it had for that patient and her family is what Jenna said is most gratifying for staff. “Clinicians don’t always realize the impact they have, but this is one example of the difference our work can make,” she said.

The use of ECPR at UW Health is getting attention. In 2023, UW Health received the Extracorporeal Life Support Organization (ELSO) Award for Excellence in Life Support. The award recognizes ECLS programs worldwide that distinguish themselves by having processes, procedures and systems in place that promote excellence and exceptional care in extracorporeal membrane oxygenation.

UW Health nurses also shared their work using ECPR at the Wisconsin Emergency Nurses Association conference, further boosting awareness of their efforts using this life-sustaining method.

“Providing education and awareness about ECPR helps make the program successful, because it’s not used every day,” said Jacinda Krueger, RN, Emergency Department Supervisor. “We’re optimistic ECPR will be used to make a difference for many more patients,” she said.

Check out more stories featuring the great work of our nurses in the Nursing Year in Review 2023 (pdf).