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Press Releases

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    • Thursday, Jun 20, 2024

    Groundbreaking Historic Milestone: ECMO Program for Region's Critically Ill Patients Now Available at Renown Health

    Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation technology (ECMO) for patients with severe heart or respiratory failure is now available locally thanks to a grant from The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust  Renown Health, the Level II Trauma Center for the region and the leader in offering the most innovative treatments for critically ill adults and children, is now home to northern Nevada’s first and only comprehensive extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) program.  The ECMO machines arrived at the Cardiac ICU at Renown Regional Medical Center this week, and the multidisciplinary team of highly specialized physicians, Critical Care intensivists, Cardiovascular surgeons, perfusionists, registered nurses and therapists are ready to provide minute-by-minute support for patients receiving ECMO treatment. The multidisciplinary ECMO team includes pharmacists and respiratory therapists who are ready to receive their first patient. “At Renown Health, we are constantly investing in our clinicians, essential services, and medical innovations to help keep care local. Access to health care—both preventive care and advanced treatment—is critical for a community’s well-being and optimal health,” said Brian Erling, MD, MBA, President & CEO for Renown Health. “We are incredibly grateful for the Helmsley Charitable Trust and their $3.5-million grant to help establish the first ECMO program for the region at Renown. ECMO saves lives. Neighbors in need of ECMO life-support can now stay close to home and loved ones, and no longer need to be transported to facilities outside our area for this type of advanced care.” What is ECMO? “ECMO is a life support technology for patients with the most severe heart and lung illnesses,” explains Richard King, MD, FACEP Division Chief- Critical Care Medicine at Renown Health and Co-Medical Director of the ECMO program. “At Renown, our technology allows a patient's heart and lungs to heal and recover from illnesses, diseases, and injuries the body has sustained. The ECMO machine is a portable life-support system used for severe cases of heart and lungfailure. The ECMO procedure provides minimally invasive heart-lung bypass support outside of the body. The machine then removes carbon dioxide from the patient’s blood and adds oxygen. Basically, ECMO serves as your heart and lungs, supplying blood with oxygen and pumped back into the body, allowing your own organs to rest and to help the impaired function.” Why is ECMO important in saving lives?  “This state-of-the-art procedure can save lives in cases that otherwise would offer little chance of survival and can act as a bridge to those needing heart or lung transplants,” says Dr. Kimball Knackstedt, Cardiovascular surgeon, Renown Institute for Heart & Vascular Health, and Co-Medical Director of the ECMO program. “ECMO can be a game changer and a last resort for patients with severe heart and lung conditions. The procedure isn’t for everyone. ECMO requires anticoagulation, so a common complication is bleeding. This makes the therapy complex for trauma patients who often have life threatening heart and lung failure but due to severe bleeding, cannot utilize ECMO. We look forward to providing care for patients who are too unstable for transport and who could die before receiving needed care.” "Renown Health serves more than one million patients in a 100,000-square mile reach across Nevada, Lake Tahoe and eastern California. The Helmsley Charitable Trust grant to the Renown Health Foundation will help give severe respiratory distress and cardiogenic shock patients a greater chance of survival and lessen the need for risky and lengthy transfers out of the community,” said Taralynn Bassham, BSN, Director of Nursing, Critical Care. “This investment in critical life support technology enables the best chance of survival for our patients suffering severe heart and/or lung failure during their most critical moments. This is truly a gift of life for many.”  ECMO programs growing across the U.S.  ECMO technology was developed in the late 1960s by a team led by Robert H. Bartlett, MD. Its main purpose was to serve as a long-term “bypass machine” to support the lungs or heart, which was not feasible at that time with conventional bypass machines. ECMO was first used successfully in 1971 by a patient with severe lung dysfunction after a motorcycle accident. In 1976, it was also used successfully for a baby who had severe lung injury from meconium aspiration, which led to increased use in the pediatric population. In 2009, ECMO was used worldwide in the treatment of severe lung failure during the H1N1 influenza pandemic. More than 100 new ECMO programs were launched in the U.S. in the last 3-5 years. Today, there are 6,120 hospitals in the U.S. and only 300 to 400 with ECMO programs according to the American Medical Association.  “We are launching our ECMO program with the capability to support up to 2 patients simultaneously for the first 1-2 years and aim to eventually perform 40 cases annually,” said Rob Blamire, Enterprise Project Manager for Renown. “Initially, we will focus on adult patients and later expand to include pediatric care. Depending on a patient’s needs, ECMO support varies from several days to weeks. The entire Renown team takes immense pride in introducing this leading-edge life support technology to our community, benefiting area patients and their families.”  What conditions may ECMO support help treat? There are several conditions extracorporeal life support can aid in treating, such as: Adult respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS); Burns (smoke inhalation); Cardiogenic shock; Heart attack; Respiratory failure; Myocarditis; Pulmonary embolism;Sepsis; and as a “bridge” to transplant. Supported by Innovative ECMO Concepts  “We appreciate the partnership with the team at Innovative ECMO Concepts, a leading provider of ECMO who specialize in providing support for launching and refining ECMO programs,” said Bill Plauth, MD, MMM, CPE, Chief Medical Officer for Renown Health, and Associate Dean for Clinical Affairs at the University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine. "From initial consultation to working bedside, staff training, and ongoing program evaluation, IEC’s comprehensive approach has ensured seamless integration and optimal outcomes for patients. “We are proud to help set a new standard in patient care and safety in northern Nevada through Renown’s ECMO program,” comments Dr. John Mehall, Chief Medical Officer at IEC. “This achievement is a testament to the team’s unwavering commitment to improving outcomes for patients requiring ECMO therapy.” Thank you to The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust "This life-support procedure would not be possible without the generosity of The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust. The Trust's ongoing support for Renown Health and our community helps us further our healing mission," said Greg Walaitis, Chief Development Officer, Renown Health Foundation. If you are a hospital or referring provider and want more information about our ECMO program, please contact the Renown Operations & Transfer Center.  For media interviews, contact or 775-691-7308. About Renown Health  Renown Health is the region’s largest, locally governed, not-for-profit integrated health care network serving Nevada, Lake Tahoe, and northeast California. With a diverse workforce of more than 7,500 employees, Renown has fostered a longstanding culture of excellence, determination, and innovation. The organization comprises a trauma center for adults and children, two acute care hospitals, a children’s hospital, a rehabilitation hospital, a medical group and urgent care network, and the locally owned not-for-profit insurance company, Hometown Health. For more information, visit

    Read More About Groundbreaking Historic Milestone: ECMO Program for Region's Critically Ill Patients Now Available at Renown Health

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