The greatest risk of ECMO is bleeding. This is because a medication called heparin is given to your child to prevent clots from forming in the tubing or the artificial lung. The bleeding can occur inside or outside of the body. While children of all ages are at risk for bleeding inside the brain, this risk is greater in infants. While on ECMO, a small amount of bleeding is normal. Commonly, it occurs at the site where the tubes enter the body. Other risks include infection, kidney failure, or failure of the heart and/or lungs to recover from the initial illness. The longer an infant or child remains on ECMO, the greater the risk of complications.
Neurologic (brain) or developmental problems can occur. Many of these problems are due to the severe illness that caused your child to be placed on ECMO. Children are monitored closely for any sign of brain injury while on ECMO, after ECMO is stopped, and even after your child has completely recovered from his/her initial illness.