WVU Heart and Vascular Institute sees continued success with ECMO for COVID-19 patients

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – The WVU Heart and Vascular Institute has successfully removed six COVID-19 patients from extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO). This survival rate is much higher than shown in a study based on early COVID-19 patient data.

Drs. McCarthy, Hayanga, and Badwhar
From left to right: Paul McCarthy, M.D., Jeremiah Hayanga, M.D., and Vinay Badwhar, M.D.

The study, based on data collected in April from nine centers across the country, showed a 15 percent survival rate for patients with COVID-19. The WVU Heart and Vascular Institute has not had a death of a COVID-19 patient that has been placed on ECMO.

“It is to the credit of our incredible Cardiovascular Intensive Care Unit that we have had such remarkable results with our COVID-19 patients,” Paul McCarthy, M.D., WVU Heart and Vascular Institute Critical Care Division chief, said. “The WVU Heart and Vascular Institute has a multidisciplinary team of highly trained specialists that are committed to patient care. The dedication of our staff to the survival and quality of life of these patients is unparalleled.”

ECMO is a form of life support that is used when patients experience respiratory failure. It oxygenates the blood and returns it to the patient, allowing physicians more time to provide treatment. 

“When we receive patients who require ECMO, they are in severe respiratory distress and at risk of dying,” Jeremiah Hayanga, M.D., WVU Heart and Vascular Institute ECMO Program director, said. “ECMO is an extraordinary measure that gives us time to treat the cause of the respiratory failure. Once the respiratory system fails, COVID-19 patients have very few options for treatment. ECMO is one of the last options once a respirator is no longer a viable option.”

Most patients require ECMO for five to 14 days, though each case is unique. Because there are few treatments for COVID-19, patients must typically allow the virus to run its course before they are able to recover. Patients who undergo ECMO often require rehabilitation in order to regain strength and function.

“The WVU Heart and Vascular Institute is dedicated to its mission to provide the most advanced therapies available to those who live in West Virginia and the surrounding region,” Vinay Badhwar, M.D., WVU Heart and Vascular Institute executive chair, said. “We are incredibly proud of the successes our Cardiovascular Intensive Care Unit and ECMO Program. We are continually working to find new and better ways to serve not only our COVID-19 patients, but all patients who come to us for help.”

For more information on the WVU Heart and Vascular Institute, visit WVUMedicine.org/Heart.