On Thursday, July 13, 2023, Keck Medical Center of USC celebrated the 10th anniversary of the nurse-run Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO) program, which is a life-supporting intervention that provides heart-lung bypass support outside the body. The event, which took place at the Coliseum Conference Room at Keck Hospital, featured the participation of Marty Sargeant, chief executive officer of Keck Medical Center of USC, who delivered a brief statement at the event which commended the important role ECMO plays for the overall health system.

Other speakers at the event included Annette Sy, DNP, RN, NE-BC, chief nursing executive of Keck Medical Center; Anahat Dhillon, MD, medical director of the CVICU; Raymond Lee, MD, surgical director of mechanical circulatory support; and Anton Barnett, chief perfusionist. Two former patients, Anthony Salazar and Roslyn Nott, also shared their life-saving ECMO experiences at Keck Hospital during the event.

The ECMO program holds special significance for Keck Medicine because it is one of only a handful of programs throughout the nation that is operated effectively by nurses. The comprehensive, round-the-clock care provided to patients on ECMO, including frequent monitoring and rapid response to emergencies, demonstrates the expertise and dedication of the nursing staff at Keck Hospital. Importantly, speakers at the event noted that this significant accomplishment is a direct result of Keck Medicine of USC’s investments in staff education and training.

During the event, Anthony Salazar shared his story of being transferred to Keck Hospital in September of 2021 for complications associated with COVID-19. He was put on VV (VenoVenous) ECMO for respiratory failure, and his ECMO therapy lasted for more than 60 days, which is a very long time for this time of treatment. Anthony was able to go home in December of 2021, and he was happy to report that in June of 2022, he was able to run a Spartan race and that his lungs are back to functioning in their fullest form.

The same year, Roslyn Nott, RN, who worked at Los Angeles County Hospital at the time, shared that she was transferred to Keck Hospital in January of 2021 with respiratory failure due to COVID-19. She was placed on VV ECMO within a few days of admission due to how damaged her lungs were and remained on the treatment for more than 40 days. Roslyn was happy to tell the audience that she was able to go home in May of 2021 to her three children and husband, and that she is currently working again as a nurse in a local school district.

ECMO therapy is used to support patients experiencing life-threatening respiratory or cardiac failure by bypassing failing organs and oxygenating a patient’s blood outside the body. Health experts recognize ECMO as the maximum level of life support that can be provided to a patient. It should be noted that not all hospitals have the capability to provide this service, which makes Keck Hospital unique in its ability to provide this type of life-saving treatment when required. In many cases, ECMO therapy is often used to bridge patients to a heart or lung transplant, or to assist in life-saving recoveries.

In 2013 Keck Hospital’s ECMO program shifted from utilizing perfusionists (cardiac-bypass specialists who are primarily found in the OR) to training bedside ICU nurses to become ECMO nurses, allowing the program to evolve into the nurse-driven program it exists as today. Since the program started, Keck Hospital has cared for more than 700 patients on ECMO, making it one of the largest program centers by volume in the country.

This significant accomplishment, celebrated through the 10-year anniversary event, was carefully planned by Melissa Fix, BSN, RN, CCRN-CMC, manager of the ECMO program.

— Shaheen AlHaddad