Retrieval of critically ill adults using extracorporeal membrane oxygenation: An Australian experience

P. Forrest*, J. Ratchford, B. Burns, R. Herkes, A. Jackson, B. Plunkett, P. Torzillo, P. Nair, E. Granger, M. Wilson, R. Pye

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

92 Citations (Scopus)


A retrieval program was developed in New South Wales (NSW), Australia to provide extracorporeal membrane oxygenation support (ECMO) for the safe transport of adults with severe, acute respiratory or cardiac failure. We describe the development and results of this program and the impact of the 2009 H1N1 epidemic on this service. An observational study of all patients who were retrieved on ECMO support in NSW, from March 1, 2007 to June 1, 2010, was carried out. Forty adult patients were retrieved on ECMO support (median age 34 years). The indications for retrieval were respiratory in 38 patients (of whom 16 were confirmed or suspected H1N1 cases) and cardiac in 2 patients. Two other patients died after referral but before ECMO support could be established. Patients were transported by road (n = 26, 65%), medical retrieval jet (n = 10, 25%) and helicopter (n = 4, 10%). The median retrieval distance was 250 km (range 12-1,960 km). Thirty-four patients (85%) survived to hospital discharge. Survival for respiratory indications was 87% (33/38 patients) and 50% (1/2 patients) for cardiac indications. There were no deaths or major morbidity associated with these retrievals. Patients with very severe respiratory failure, which was considered to preclude conventional ventilation for safe transfer to tertiary centres, were managed by an ECMO referral and retrieval program in NSW and had a high rate of survival. This program also enhanced the capacity of the state to respond to a surge in demand for ECMO support due to the H1N1 epidemic, although the role of ECMO in respiratory failure is not yet well defined.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)824-830
Number of pages7
JournalIntensive Care Medicine
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - May 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • Acute respiratory distress syndrome
  • Adults
  • Extracorporeal membrane oxygenation
  • Retrieval

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