Northwell mobile medical team treats sickest patients with heart-lung life support machine

July 12, 2019

Harnessing its expertise in cardiac and lung care, Northwell Health announced that a team of its medical specialists has been traveling to area hospitals to treat patients who are so critically ill they cannot be moved and need a life-saving extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) machine, which replaces heart and lung function.

Known as the ECMO-TO-GO program, it is the only one of its kind offered on Long Island, said Northwell. The team of physicians, clinicians and administrators will be awarded Northwell Health’s 12th annual President’s Award for Teamwork for its life-saving program.

Many hospitals do not have ECMO equipment or the expertise to administer the procedure. Northwell established the program in 2018, recognizing the gap in critical care for the sickest patients in the community who are unable to be transported. The team can be dispatched by ambulance 24/7 to Northwell facilities and other hospitals in the New York metropolitan area. When needed, the team can also access Northwell’s medical helicopter, SkyHealth, to cut down on travel time.

With a mortality rate of about 50 percent in critically ill patients needing ECMO, the concept of a mobile team grew out of an established acute-lung injury program at New York’s Long Island Jewish Medical Center (LIJ) in New Hyde Park and the heart transplant program at the Sandra Atlas Bass Heart Hospital at North Shore University Hospital (NSUH) in Manhasset.

The ECMO machine returns oxygen to the blood and removes carbon dioxide - functioning just as healthy lungs. It ensures that the patient’s body has enough oxygen, allowing the failing organs to rest and recover. When the heart or lungs have healed and can work on their own, the patient is gradually weaned off the ECMO machine. Patients with severe but reversible heart or lung disorders who have not responded to such treatments as mechanical ventilation, medications and oxygen therapy are candidates for ECMO.

Once patients receive mobile ECMO care, the medical team transports the patients and returns to LIJ, NSUH or Southside Hospital, in Bay Shore depending on the patient’s condition and location.

“Teamwork is only the beginning of what makes the ECMO-TO-GO team successful,” said David Brody, vice president of Northwell’s cardiothoracic service line, in the release. “The strength of the group comes from its ability to use their differences in expertise to meet the dire needs of a complicated patient population. They do so with seamless coordination, compassion and communication, ultimately forging something stronger than any individual person.”

The team will accept the award on July 15 at a gala and ceremony at the Crest Hollow Country Club, along with winners in five other healthcare categories.