‘A last-ditch effort’ ECMO machine used to help keep severe COVID patients alive

Local News

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD) – Lowcountry doctors say there’s an increase in the number of children hospitalized in the Lowcountry.

With COVID numbers still higher than they’ve been at any other point in the pandemic, a device called an ECMO machine is being used as a last-ditch effort to save patients suffering from the virus.

Inside the PICU, a teddy bear keeps a child company at MUSC Shawn Jenkins Children’s Hospital who is kept alive by an ECMO machine.

“We have seen a very concerning increase in the number of children hospitalized,” said Dr. Allison Eckard who is the Director of Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at MUSC.

As a last resort for patients, those with severe COVID-19 cases are placed on a life support machine called an ECMO.

“You put very large catheters in their neck that take out the blood and oxygenate it in this machine and then put the blood back into the patient’s body and we do this usually when in the case of COVID where the lungs no longer work,” said Dr. Eckard.

Putting children with COVID on the device comes with a lot of risks.

“Depending on the patient population and the age it can have as high as a 50% mortality rate, so if they are fortunate enough to survive, they are often in the hospital for weeks to months,” said Dr. Eckard.

MUSC has had a total of five children on ECMO related to COVID and two additional children with MIS-C who required ECMO.

“That is more than really we ever see with other conditions such as influenza at one point in our PICU we had three children on ECMO,” said Dr. Eckard.

So far, all children with COVID and MIS-C who have required ECMO have made recoveries.

“We still have one child in our PICU right now on ECMO and so as I said it is never a guarantee,” said Dr. Eckard, but doctors say the life-saving machine is not something to be taken lightly.

“Children tend to do a little bit better than adults and sometimes they’re more likely to come off and so we’ve been very fortunate,” said Dr. Eckard.

If you have a child who is eligible for the vaccine and has an underlying condition, those children are eligible for the third dose of the vaccine.

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