Intraoperative extracorporeal membrane oxygenation and the possibility of postoperative prolongation improve survival in bilateral lung transplantation

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The value of intraoperative extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) in lung transplantation remains controversial. In our department, ECMO has been used routinely for intraoperatively unstable patients for more than 15 years. Recently, we have extended its indication to a preemptive application in almost all cases. In addition, we prolong ECMO into the early postoperative period whenever graft function does not meet certain quality criteria or in patients with primary pulmonary hypertension. The objective of this study was to review the results of this strategy.


All standard bilateral lung transplantations performed between January 2010 and June 2016 were included in this single-center, retrospective analysis. Patients were divided into 3 groups: group I—no ECMO (n = 116), group II—intraoperative ECMO (n = 343), and group III—intraoperative and prolonged postoperative ECMO (n = 123). The impact of different ECMO strategies on primary graft function, short-term outcomes, and patient survival were analyzed.


The use of intraoperative ECMO was associated with improved 1-, 3-, and 5-year survival compared with non-ECMO patients (91% vs 82%, 85% vs 76%, and 80% vs 74%; log-rank P = .041). This effect was still evident after propensity score matching of both cohorts. Despite the high number of complex patients in group III, outcome was excellent with higher survival rates than in the non-ECMO group at all time points.


Intraoperative ECMO results in superior survival when compared with transplantation without any extracorporeal support. The concept of prophylactic postoperative ECMO prolongation is associated with excellent outcomes in recipients with pulmonary hypertension and in patients with questionable graft function at the end of implantation.

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