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J Vasc Surg. 2017 Apr;65(4):1074-1079. doi: 10.1016/j.jvs.2016.10.059.

Arterial protocol including prophylactic distal perfusion catheter decreases limb ischemia complications in patients undergoing extracorporeal membrane oxygenation.

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Division of Vascular and Endovascular Surgery, Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pa.
Divisions of Cardiothoracic Surgery and Vascular and Endovascular Surgery, Thomas Jefferson University, Philadelphia, Pa.
University South Florida Health, Tampa, Fla.
Division of Vascular and Endovascular Surgery, Advanced Surgical Associates of New Jersey, Pennington, NJ.
Divisions of Cardiothoracic Surgery and Vascular and Endovascular Surgery, Thomas Jefferson University, Philadelphia, Pa. Electronic address:



Venoarterial extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) is a salvage therapy in patients with severe cardiopulmonary failure. Owing to the large size of the cannulas inserted via the femoral vessels (≤24-F) required for adequate oxygenation, this procedure could result in significant limb ischemic complications (10%-70%). This study evaluates the results of a distal limb perfusion arterial protocol designed to reduce associated complications.


We conducted a retrospective institutional review board-approved review of consecutive patients requiring ECMO via femoral cannulation (July 2010-January 2015). To prevent arterial ischemia, a distal perfusion catheter (DPC) was placed antegrade into the superficial femoral artery and connected to the ECMO circuit. Limb perfusion was monitored via near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS) placed on both calves. Decannulation involved open repair, patch angioplasty, and femoral thrombectomy as needed.


A total of 91 patients were placed on ECMO via femoral arterial cannula (16-F to 24-F) for a mean duration of 9 days (range, 1-40 days). A percutaneous DPC was inserted prophylactically at the time of cannulation in 55 of 91 patients, without subsequent ischemia. Of the remaining 36 patients without initial DPC placement, 12 (33% without DPC) developed ipsilateral limb ischemia related to arterial insufficiency, as detected by NIRS and clinical findings. In these patients, the placement of a DPC (n = 7) with or without a fasciotomy, or with a fasciotomy alone (n = 4), resulted in limb salvage; only one patient required subsequent amputation. After decannulation (n = 7), no patients had further evidence of limb ischemia. Risk factors for the development of limb ischemia identified by categorical analysis included lack of DPC at time of cannulation and ECMO cannula size of less than 20-Fr. There was a trend toward younger patient age. Overall ECMO survival rate was 42%, whereas survival in patients with limb ischemia was only 25%.


Limb ischemia complications from ECMO may be decreased by prophylactic placement of an antegrade DPC. Without DPC, continuous monitoring using NIRS may identify limb ischemia, which can be treated subsequently with DPC and or fasciotomy.

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