Erlanger Health System has recently implemented the Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO) procedure to be used in cases of cardiac or pulmonary failure and will have this technology on site at the 2017 IRONMAN 70.3 World Championships. This will be the first time ECMO is used for pre-hospital care during an endurance event in the United States.
North American IRONMAN events have suffered approximately 30 participant fatalities in recent years, cardiac arrests comprising the highest percentage of deaths.
Pre-hospital care at strenuous athletic events such as the IRONMAN competitions can be the difference between life and death for many competitors. The Erlanger ECMO team hopes to positively influence the outcome of pre-hospital care delivered to participants experiencing cardiac distress.
ECMO is a process by which the patient’s blood is circulated through a device acting as an artificial lung, oxygenating it then pumping it back into the body either directly into the heart or the main artery leading from the heart to other vital organs. This process can lessen or eliminate tissue damage and save lives by keeping oxygenated blood flowing to the brain and heart, two crucial organs, as well as the rest of the body during a cardiac or pulmonary event.
“The ECMO procedure will allow our medical professionals to better support the athletes in these events,” said Dr. Larry Shears, co-director of the UT Erlanger Heart and Lung Institute and marathon runner. “It is a game changer to be able to have the same world-class technology that we have at our Heart and Lung Institute available at an extremely strenuous event such as the IRONMAN. If a participant goes into cardiac arrest during the event, our medical team will be able to start the ECMO procedure quickly and greatly increase the patient’s odds of survival.”
The Erlanger ECMO teams are each comprised of a cardiologist, two catheterization lab nurses, a respiratory therapist, a perfusionist, a LIFE FORCE nurse and a LIFE FORCE paramedic all of whom are expertly trained in the use of the ECMO technique. The Erlanger ECMO team’s groundbreaking innovation centers around the setup of the process by which the life-saving technique is administered to patients on site. ECMO has been part of the pre-hospital care setup for similar events in Europe, but was not implemented in the same manner. Now, Erlanger endeavors to apply this innovative approach to event medicine locally.
“We have seen that despite advances in medicine, when someone arrests during an event such as this, the survival rates have not improved over the years,” said Dr. Matthew Wiisanen, director of Structural Heart Disease at UT Erlanger Heart and Lung Institute. “We are trying to be innovative in the field and bring something new to this arena to try and move the needle in the right direction. As an academic institution, we hope that we can tell our story to the greater community and make a difference in the lives of future participants.”