Miracle machine makes heroic rescues—and leaves patients in limbo
The latest miracle machine in modern medicine—the use of which has skyrocketed in recent years—is saving people from the brink of death: adults whose lungs have been ravaged by the flu, a trucker who was trapped underwater in a crash, a man whose heart had stopped working for an astonishing seven hours.
But for each adult saved by this machine—dubbed ECMO, for extracorporeal membrane oxygenation—another adult hooked up to the equipment dies in the hospital. For those patients, the intervention is a very expensive, labor-intensive and unsuccessful effort to cheat death.
ECMO, the most aggressive form of life support available, pumps blood out of the body, oxygenates it and returns it to the body, keeping a person alive for days, weeks or months even when their heart or lungs don’t work.