Penn Lung Rescue was developed to ensure patients experiencing a severe respiratory emergency receive the best possible care, no matter where they first seek care. Penn Lung Rescue is the only program in the region that is able to go to a local hospital and initiate Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO), a lifesaving treatment option for patients with acute respiratory failure. From there, the patient can be safely transported to Penn Presbyterian Medical Center.

Mobile ECMO

Penn Lung Rescue Team

The Penn Lung Rescue program was launched in December 2014 to provide our region with expanded access to Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO), a lifesaving treatment option for patients with acute respiratory failure. The program builds on Penn Medicine's extensive experience with ECMO.

Because many patients with severe respiratory insufficiency may be too unstable to transport, we specifically designed the Penn Lung Rescue team to be mobile. This means that we can come directly to other hospitals to initiate ECMO for a safe return back to Penn Presbyterian Medical Center in Philadelphia.

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What is ECMO?

ECMO is a mechanical device that will temporarily replace the work and function of injured lungs.

The system is similar to what occurs during heart bypass surgery: Blood is drained from the body using a catheter. The catheter is placed in a central vein, usually near the heart. A mechanical pump draws blood from the vein into the circuit. The blood then runs through a chamber called a membrane oxygenator. This oxygenator can remove carbon dioxide and replace oxygen just as healthy lungs would. The blood is then pumped back into the body into a different vein during Veno-Venous (VV) ECMO, or into an artery to help maintain vital organ function if cardiac support is needed.

These therapies are used as a bridge to recovery while the care team addresses the cause of the respiratory failure.

Who needs ECMO?

There are several conditions that could benefit from ECMO including:

  • Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome - The flu, pneumonia, pancreatitis or other inflammatory illness that causes fluid to develop in the lungs and less oxygen to reach the bloodstream
  • Status Asthmaticus - An asthma attack that cannot be controlled quickly enough with medication
  • Pulmonary Embolism (PE) - A blood clot or other debris that interrupts blood flow in the lungs
  • Mechanical Compression - A tumor that interferes with the lungs ability to inflate and move air in and out

What is the goal of ECMO?

Penn Lung Rescue's strategy is to use VV ECMO to provide a bridge to recovery for patients with reversible lung failure. In some cases, we may need to cure an infection; in others we need to remove a blood clot. The goal is to stabilize patients long enough to fix the problem that caused their illness and minimize trauma to healthy lung tissue, so they can have a meaningful recovery.

Are there other programs like Penn Lung Rescue?

ECMO is a relatively common therapy, but Penn Lung Rescue is the only program in the region that has the ability to come to a local hospital and initiate ECMO prior to transportation back to Penn Presbyterian Medical Center. This is an enormous benefit for patients who have become so sick that transporting them without ECMO could be dangerous. There are other programs like ours in the United States, but the closest to our area is in New York City.

Penn Lung Rescue Team

Contact Us

Penn Lung Rescue is available 24 hours a day, every day.

Hotline: 877-937-7366, Option 5
Intensive Care Unit: 215-662-5025

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