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Massive pulmonary embolism is frequently lethal because of acute irreversible pulmonary and cardiac failure. Extracorporeal life support (ECLS) has been used for cardiopulmonary failure in our institution since 1988, and we reviewed our experience with its use in the management of massive pulmonary emboli.We reviewed our complete experience with ECLS for massive pulmonary emboli from January 1992 through December 2005. The records of 21 patients were examined and data extracted.During the study period, 21 patients received ECLS for massive pulmonary emboli. All patients were on vasoactive drugs, acidemic, and hypoxic at the time of institution of ECLS. Eight were in active cardiac arrest. Five were trauma patients, eight had recently undergone an operation, and six had a hypercoagulable disorder. Nineteen of the 21 patients were cannulated for venoarterial bypass and two were placed on venovenous bypass. The average duration of support for survivors was 5.4 days, ranging from 5 hours to 12.5 days. Emboli resolved with anticoagulation in 10 of 13 survivors and 4 of 13 survivors underwent surgical pulmonary embolectomy. Catastrophic neurologic events were the most common cause of mortality in our series; four patients died from intracranial hemorrhage. The overall survival rate was 62% (13/21).We conclude that emergent ECLS provides an opportunity to improve the prognosis of an otherwise near-fatal condition, and should be considered in the algorithm for management of a massive pulmonary embolism in an unstable patient.