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Shawn L. Hervey-Jumper, Gail M. Annich, Andrea R. Yancon, Hugh J. L. Garton, Karin M. Muraszko, and Cormac O. Maher


Extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) is a potentially life-saving treatment for patients in refractory cardiorespiratory failure. Neurological complications that result from ECMO treatment are known to significantly impact patient survival and quality of life. The purpose of this study was to review the incidence of neurological complications of ECMO in the pediatric population and the role of neurosurgery in the treatment of these patients.


Data were obtained from the national Extracorporeal Life Support Organization (ELSO) Registry for the years 1990 to 2009. The neurological complications recorded by the registry include CNS hemorrhage, CNS infarction, and seizure. The ECMO Registry at the authors' institution was then searched, and 3 pediatric patients who had undergone craniotomy during ECMO treatment were identified.


Children in the ELSO Registry who were treated with ECMO survived to hospital discharge in 65% of cases. Intracranial hemorrhage occurred in 7.4% of the ECMO-treated patients, with 36% of those surviving to hospital discharge. Hemorrhage was more likely in patients younger than 30 days old and in those requiring ECMO for cardiac indications. Cerebral infarction occurred in 5.7% of all ECMO-treated patients. Clinically diagnosed seizures occurred in 8.4% of all ECMO-treated patients. The ECMO Registry at the authors' institution revealed that 1898 patients were treated there. Intracranial hemorrhage was diagnosed in 81 patients (5.8%), and 3 of these patients were treated with craniotomy. Two of the patients were alive with minimal neurological impairment and normal school performance at 10 and 16 years of follow-up.


Intracranial hemorrhage is a serious complication of ECMO treatment. While the surgical risk is substantial, there may be a role for surgical evacuation of hemorrhage in well-selected patients.