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Ann Surg. 1994 Sep;220(3):269-80; discussion 281-2.

Extracorporeal life support for neonatal respiratory failure. A 20-year experience.

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Department of Surgery, University of Michigan Medical Center, Ann Arbor.



The authors reviewed their experience with extracorporeal life support (ECLS) in neonatal respiratory failure; they define changes in patient population, technique, and outcomes.


Extracorporeal life support has progressed from laboratory research to initial clinical trials in 1972. Following a decade of clinical research, ECLS is now standard treatment for neonatal respiratory failure refractory to conventional pulmonary support techniques. Our group has the longest and largest experience with this technique.


Between 1973 and 1993, 460 neonates with severe respiratory failure were treated using ECLS. The records of all patients were reviewed.


Overall survival was 87%. Primary diagnoses were meconium aspiration syndrome (MAS; 169 cases [96% survival]), respiratory distress syndrome/hyaline membrane disease (91 cases [88% survival]), persistent pulmonary hypertension of the newborn (37 cases [92%]), pneumonia/sepsis (75 cases [84% survival]), congenital diaphragmatic hernia (CDH; 67 cases [67% survival]), and other diagnoses (21 cases [71% survival]). Common mechanical complications included clots in the circuit (136; 85% survival); air in the circuit (67; 82% survival); cannula problems (65; 83% survival) and oxygenator failure (34; 65% survival). Patient-related complications included intracranial infarct or bleed (54 cases; 61% survival), major bleeding (48 cases; 81% survival), seizures (88 cases; 76% survival), metabolic abnormalities (158 cases; 71% survival) and infection (21 cases; 48% survival). Since 1989, treatment groups have been expanded to include premature infants (13 cases; 62% survival), infants with grade I intracranial hemorrhage (28 cases; 54% survival) and "non-honeymoon" CDH patients (15 cases; 27% survival). Since 1990, single-catheter venovenous access has been used in 131 patients (97% survival) and currently is the preferred mode of access. Follow-up ranges from 1 to 19 years; 80% of patients are growing and developing normally.


Extracorporeal life support has become standard treatment for severe neonatal respiratory failure in our center (460 cases; 87% survival), and worldwide (8913 cases; 81% survival). The availability of ECLS makes the evaluation of other innovative methods of treatment, such as late elective repair of diaphragmatic hernia and new pulmonary vasodilators, possible. The application of ECLS is now being extended to premature and low-birth weight infants as well as older children and adults.

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