Pulmonary edema and acute lung injury are common sequelae after cardiopulmonary bypass. Increased ventilatory support improves gas exchange, but may compromise ventricular function. From July 1994 to February 1997, nine patients were supported with veno-venous (V-V) extracorporeal life support (ECLS) for post cardiotomy respiratory failure. The mean age was 53 ± 13 years (range: 37–80 years), and eight (89%) were men. Pre-operatively, five of nine (56%) were intubated, three (33%) were supported with an intra-aortic balloon pump, and five (56%) were on veno-arterial ECLS. Four patients were post left ventricular assist device (LVAD) implantation, one each after resection of an aortic aneurysm, mitral valve replacement and bypass grafting, aortic valve replacement, and pulmonary embolectomy and heart transplantation. Mean duration of support was 2 ± 1 days (range: 1–4 days). Patients were intubated for a mean of 2 ± 22 days (range: 4–71 days). One patient (11%) required mediastinal re-exploration secondary to bleeding, two patients underwent hemodialysis or ultrafiltration, and seven (77%) developed bacterial pneumonia. All patients were weaned from ECLS. Six patients (67%) survived to hospital discharge. Cause of death was multiple organ failure in two patients; one died from respiratory failure. V-V ECLS is a useful alternative to open sternotomy for ventilatory induced hemodynamic compromise post cardiotomy, especially in patients with LVADs.
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