The Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO) program at Children's Hospital Los Angeles (CHLA) has been honored for the third time with the prestigious Award for Excellence in Life Support by the Extracorporeal Life Support Organization (ELSO), an international group of health care professionals and scientists who evaluate hospital treatment therapies for patients fighting complex cardiac disease and respiratory failure.
"This award once again points to the commitment of the organization and our staff to providing the highest level of patient care," says James Stein, MD, surgical director of ECMO and chief quality officer at Children's Hospital Los Angeles. "The ability to provide this state-of-the-art treatment for these highly complex patients is what sets CHLA apart from other hospitals."
One of the largest efforts of its kind in California, the hospital's ECMO program serves patients in the neonatal, pediatric and cardiothoracic intensive care units. More than 1,100 children have received lifesaving ECMO care at Children's Hospital Los Angeles since the program's inception in the hospital's Newborn and Infant Critical Care Unit (NICCU) in 1987. ECMO is a treatment that uses a pump to circulate blood through an artificial lung outside the body and back into the blood stream of an ill child, giving the heart and lungs a chance to grow or heal while their work is handled by this external system. It requires a high-functioning, multidisciplinary team, including ECMO specialists at the patient's bedside, neonatologists, intensivists, surgeons, perfusionists, nurses, respiratory therapists, cardiologists and neuro-radiologists. In addition, the 24-hour availability of a dedicated emergency transport team and the hospital's blood bank are integral to the ECMO team. With the ability to coordinate a wide range of pediatric subspecialists and services under one roof, the ECMO program can treat the most difficult of cases. Typically used as a last-resort when the infant or child is not responding to standard treatment, ECMO technology increases survival rate by up to 80 percent.
"At CHLA, we have dedicated ourselves to providing excellent care through an incredible but challenging technology," says Lara Nelson, MD, a specialist in pediatric critical care medicine and medical director of the CHLA ECMO Program. "It is because of the team's knowledge and level of experience that many children treated with this technology are able to live healthy, normal lives."
One of the 1,100 children that the program has helped is Haven Forner, who just celebrated her first birthday. At 5 months old, Haven was airlifted to CHLA in December 2013 at the request of her doctor at Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital, when her "perfect storm of germs"—pneumonia, parainfluenza and adenovirus—worsened. "He had the foresight to know Haven might need ECMO care and made it very clear that CHLA was where Haven needed to be," says Aja Forner, Haven's mother.
On December 25, on a day that would have been Haven's first Christmas, her lungs and heart were given the gift of complete rest. For the next 17 days, ECMO equipment helped Haven pump and oxygenate her blood, which gave her lungs and heart the time to heal. "It was so hard for us to see our baby in the condition she was in, but knowing Haven had two incredible nurses caring for her around the clock, we knew she was in great hands," says Forner.
Haven and her family spent two months in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) at CHLA and she was fittingly named "The Miracle Baby."
"There is never a moment that goes by that we don't remember the odds Haven beat," says Forner. "We are grateful for the gift we have been given. Every laugh, smile, milestone and breath is because of CHLA."
"The CHLA ECMO program exemplifies how we do our best together to care for our most fragile patients and provide hope for families in difficult times," says Philippe Friedlich, MD, MS Epi, MBA, interim center director & division chief, Center for Fetal and Neonatal Medicine at Children's Hospital Los Angeles"
This award is a high honor. It is included as one criterion in the U.S. News & World Report Best Children's Hospitals survey, which recognizes the country's top pediatric medical centers and demonstrates to the health care community the high level of standards, unique equipment and exceptional education of hospital staff. U.S. News has ranked CHLA a top-five children's hospital three years in a row. "Our ELSO Center for Excellence Award recognizes over 25 years of teamwork at our institution and celebrates our pursuit of clinical, research and education excellence," Friedlich says. "These attributes enable the ECMO team to provide outstanding care to patients like Haven."
The award will be accepted by members of the ECMO team at the 25th Anniversary ELSO Conference in September in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Children's Hospital Los Angeles