Meeting the need: The ECMO team’s increased volume

Over the past 18 months, UI Health Care has seen a jump in the number of patients requiring ECMO (Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation)—the life-saving technology that takes over the circulation and oxygenation of blood.

Dan Dietzel, BSN, RN, CCRN, and Kristina Rudolph, RN, BSN

In a normal year, the ECMO team cares for approximately 60 patients across UI Health Care.

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, those numbers have increased by more than 30%.

“We take care of the sickest of the sick in this hospital and in the state,” says Kristina Rudolph, RN, BSN, co-coordinator for the ECMO program.

A team approach

While ECMO is often referenced alongside COVID-19, Dan Dietzel, BSN, RN, CCRN, a full-time ECMO specialist, notes that their work expands far beyond the coronavirus.

“We work in the operating room, intensive care units, emergency department, and in various other hospital units across the complex,” says Dietzel. “We care for adult, pediatric, and neonatal patients so in addition to the full-time core staff, we have an additional 25 ICU nurses and respiratory therapists who are trained in the technology and can participate in the management of patients on ECMO.”

UI Health Care’s ECMO team is widely recognized for their expertise, receiving daily referrals and consultation requests, as well as being awarded the Gold Level Award for Excellence in Life Support from the Extracorporeal Life Support Organization (ELSO).

UI Health Care’s ECMO program is the oldest and largest program in the state of Iowa. With nine ECMO machines, of which three are almost always in use, UI Hospitals & Clinics is a high-volume center by ELSO.

“The uptick in our patient numbers is really two-fold,” says Dietzel. “On one hand, there’s the pandemic. And on the other, the increased attention given to ECMO because COVID-19 has led to more visibility of ECMO’s life-saving capability, meaning we’re getting more consults and referrals.”

A fighting chance

Rudolph says they are constantly looking to hire and train more staff, in order to continue meeting the needs of their patients.

“It’s a testament to the skill of our team and the dedication we have to our patients that we continue to serve as a national training site and be recognized for the outstanding care the entire team provides,” says Rudolph.

While ECMO is not the end all be all cure for these critically ill patients, Dietzel emphasizes that it provides patients one crucial thing: a fighting chance.

“ECMO is a bridge therapy,” he says. “It is not a cure by itself. It can be a bridge to recovery or a bridge to transplant or implantation of a ventricular assist device. Some patients don’t survive, but the miraculous thing about ECMO is that it offers a chance for our critically-ill patients to recover.”