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BAMC’s adult ECMO program receives national recognition

By Elaine Sanchez | Brooke Army Medical Center Public Affairs | Oct. 30, 2017

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas —

Brooke Army Medical Center has received national recognition for its lifesaving heart-lung bypass program.

BAMC’s adult extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, or ECMO, program has received the Award for Excellence in Life Support from the Extracorporeal Life Support Organization. The recognition designates BAMC as a National ECMO Center of Excellence.

Established in October 2012, BAMC has the only ECMO center in the Department of Defense and remains one of the few centers with global air transportable ECMO capability.

ECMO is a heart-lung bypass system that replaces the natural functions of the heart and lungs while treatments and natural healing of the affected organs take place. While the technology has been used to aid ill infants and pediatric patients for over 30 years, it has more recently been shown to have lifesaving capabilities for adults.

“ECMO is not a treatment for any specific disease. It works by keeping critically ill patients alive and buying time for us to address their underlying condition,” said Air Force Col. Phillip Mason, medical director for BAMC’s adult ECMO program. “In some cases, we can reduce a patient's chance of dying from 80 to 90 percent down to 30 to 40 percent. While 30 to 40 percent is still high, it represents a significant improvement and translates into many lives saved.”

The military’s ECMO program started at the Air Force’s Wilford Hall Medical Center in the 1980s and was exclusive to neonatal care. The mission moved to BAMC in 2011 and expanded to include adult patients. Today, the team is able to provide round-the-clock care to four patients simultaneously.

BAMC has a designated ECMO team that includes Army, Air Force and Navy physicians, nurses, technicians and program managers; however, the program involves the efforts of most inpatient services.

“It takes a joint team to be successful,” Mason noted. “Each service and specialty brings something to the table.”

BAMC first treated an adult with ECMO in December 2012. The patient was suffering from Toxic Epidermal Necrolysis, an autoimmune reaction to medication, resulting in severe lung damage. The young mother of two was on ECMO for 23 days, but survived due to the lifesaving treatment and “an amazing team effort,” Mason said. The program has now treated over 60 inpatients and conducted 38 ECMO transports.

In July 2013, the ECMO team completed the military’s first trans-Atlantic movement of an adult on external lung support. The team treated a patient during a nonstop C-17 Globemaster III flight from Germany to San Antonio – a 5,000-mile, 11 1/2 hour trek.

As part of the BAMC trauma program, the ECMO program aids military and civilian patients throughout Southwest Texas.

“We’re glad we can serve as a safety net for the community, particularly when it involves a lifesaving procedure,” Mason said.

ECMO skills not only benefit the community, but will keep the team’s skills sharp for combat casualty care, including transport ability. ECMO-trained teams successfully transported 10 U.S. service members from the battlefield to Germany between 2005 and 2012.