MEDICINE: Life-support machines offer hope against meningitis

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The Independent Online
A special type of life-support technique could rescue meningitis victims from the brink of death, doctors at Great Ormond Street Hospital, London, said yesterday. The system, known as extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO), uses a modified heart-lung machine which temporarily takes over the functions of the heart and lungs. Keeping the body alive artificially buys time for the disease to resolve itself and damaged organs to recover.

Doctors studying ECMO gathered information on 12 meningococcal patients, aged between four months and 18 years, who had received the therapy in Australia and the UK since 1989.

They had been chosen for ECMO because they had heart or lung failure and had not responded to conventional treatment.

Of the twelve, eight survived, and six suffered no long-term adverse effects. Of the four patients who died, two were brain-dead and the families of the other two asked for ECMO to be withdrawn because blood supply failure meant it would have been necessary to amputate limbs.

Writing in the medical journal the Lancet, Dr Allan Goldman and colleagues said they did not think any of the patients would have lived without ECMO.