Triad ICU doctor talks ECMO machine availability as hospitalizations remain high


(WGHP) — Demand for ECMO machines remains high as more than 3,500 people are hospitalized with COVID-19 across the state.

Extracorporeal membrane oxygenation works by pumping and oxygenating blood, allowing the lungs to rest and recover.

A spokesperson for Cone Health said Wednesday the system has enough equipment to handle five to six patients on ECMO. Three patients are currently using it.

Dr. Ashish Khanna, an associate professor in the Department of Anesthesiology for Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist, would not say exactly how many machines the hospital has.

Khanna said two weeks ago the system was accommodating out-of-state transfers from states like Florida and Georgia into the ICU.

A spokesperson said Wednesday they were no longer accepting transfers for ECMO treatment.

“With the delta variant, we’re seeing progression with the disease is the trajectory is a more rapid trajectory of decline,” Khanna said.

He explained it’s not as simple as ordering more machines for treatment.

“You need specialized nurses, technicians, perfusionists, specialized doctors to run the machine and manage the patient,” he said.

Hospitalizations remain high statewide, Khanna wants people to know ECMO doesn’t mean a cure.

“The youngest and healthiest patients that go on the ECMO for COVID-19, it’s about 30 to 40% so only a third of all patients who come on ECMO will survive in any case, and I’m talking about younger healthier patients in general,” he said.

A Novant Health spokesperson provided the following statement:

“As part of our commitment to patient safety, which is a top priority of Novant Health, we diversify and routinely monitor our supply chain in order to be prepared and meet the needs of our patients. Today, our ventilator supply meets our needs. Our ECMO program is primarily located in Charlotte but our Triad facilities offer supportive care and provide transfer for any patients requiring sustained ECMO support.”

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