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Smidt Heart Institute’s ECMO Expertise Awarded

The Smidt Heart Institute’s Combined Adult and Pediatric Program for Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation, or ECMO, Receives Gold Level Award for Excellence by the Extracorporeal Life Support Organization

The Smidt Heart Institute at Cedars-Sinai has earned a prestigious designation for its excellence in adult and pediatric extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, or ECMO—an often lifesaving treatment where blood is pumped outside of a patient’s body to a portable heart-lung machine, giving the patient’s own organs a rest.

ECMO, once widely viewed by physicians as a last-chance therapy for patients close to death, was prominently employed with success during the COVID-19 pandemic, when the virus was at its peak and many patients arrived at the hospital on the edge of not surviving. 

Cedars-Sinai physicians learned that ECMO—in carefully selected patients—served as a bridge to lung transplantation, or at minimum, an opportunity for a patient’s body to heal their own lungs. Care teams also use ECMO in patients with heart disease to allow for recovery, or even as a bridge to heart transplantation.

Tyler Gunn, MDThe prestigious three-year Gold Level Award of Excellence in Extracorporeal Life Support was given by the Extracorporeal Life Support Organization.

“This achievement is a testament to our dedication to providing exceptional care and promoting excellence in every aspect of our extracorporeal life support program,” said Tyler Gunn, MD, director of the Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation Program in the Department of Cardiac Surgery. 

Richard Kim, MD, surgical director of the Guerin Family Congenital Heart Program and director of Pediatric and Congenital Cardiac Surgery, says the award not only signifies a commitment to providing exceptional adult and pediatric care but, “also assures the healthcare community of our adherence to high-quality standards, specialized equipment and supplies, well-defined patient protocols, and advanced education for all our staff members.” Richard Kim, MD

Experts at the Smidt Heart Institute, a designated Center of Excellence, demonstrated superlative patient care by employing the highest-quality measures, evidence-based processes, and well-structured administrative systems. Other findings concluded employees demonstrated excellence in training, education, collaboration and communication, and the institute and medical center were found to foster a healing environment for families, patients and staff.

“Being recognized as a Gold Level Center of Excellence showcases our leadership in extracorporeal life support and highlights our dedication to offering state-of-the-art healthcare services,” said Joanna Chikwe, MD, chair of the Department of Cardiac Surgery at Cedars-Sinai and the Irina and George Schaeffer Distinguished Chair in Cardiac Surgery. “Our collective efforts and unwavering commitment to excellence, especially during the challenging times of the COVID-19 pandemic, have culminated in this incredible achievement.”

The institute’s success with ECMO led Smidt investigators to publish novel clinical data that supported wider use of ECMO. The data was published via an analysis in The New England Journal of Medicine, and included data from more than 3,000 lung transplantations that took place in the U.S. between Aug. 1, 2020, and Sept. 30, 2021.

Joanna Chikwe, MDThe data showed that during the pandemic, 7% of the nation’s lung transplants were performed to treat severe, irreversible lung damage caused by COVID-19. More than half of these patients needed either ventilators or ECMO before their transplant.

The comprehensive team provided a cumulative total of more than 30,000 patient hours of ECMO support in 2022 alone.

“We extend our heartfelt gratitude to each member of our multidisciplinary ECMO team, including nursing staff, perfusionists, pharmacists, program coordinators and administrators, intensivists, as well as medical and surgical staff,” Gunn said. “This award serves as a reminder of our shared mission to save lives, improve patient outcomes, and continuously advance the field of medical and surgical care.”

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