The University of New Mexico Hospital is the first hospital in the state to use a new machine that increases the survival rate of patients suffering from life-threatening lung and/or heart problems.

Last fall UNMH received a portable extracorporeal membrane oxygenation machine.

An ECMO machine works by pulling blood out of a patient and running it through a device that oxygenates the blood and removes carbon dioxide. The machine then returns the blood to the patient’s body in a manner that bypasses the heart and lungs.

UNMH has been using traditional ECMO machines since the mid 1990s, but the new portable unit is unique, because it allows patients to be transported while still hooked up to the ECMO.

Dr. Jonathan Marinaro of the UNM Center for Adult Critical Care said he hopes this device can be used to transport patients long distances.

“There are a certain amount of people in the state who are dieing up in the Four Corners because they are too sick to get transported,” Marinaro said. “Maybe sometime in the future, using this device, we will be able to fly up to those areas, get those people, put them on this device and then fly them back to UNMH.”

UNMH said using ECPR, which is the use of ECMO in conjunction with CPR, has increased the survival rate of patients whose heart has stopped from about 7 percent to 30 percent.

“So far we have been able to save 3 out of the 9 patients who were getting, or just received, CPR by putting them on heart-lung bypass,” Marinaro said. “These are people who were 100 percent going to die. We were at the point where most people would have stopped, but we were able to put these people on bypass and get them back.”

Last year, UNMH was able to increase the survivability by 75 percent for patients suffering from massive pulmonary embolisms.

“A massive pulmonary embolism is a large blood clot that goes to the lungs and causes the right side of the heart to freeze up like vapor lock on a car,” Marinaro said. “We have had great success putting those people on the heart-lung bypass for just a few days and getting them to survive.”

Although the portable ECMO machine is having a positive impact, Marinaro says it cannot be used on every patient.

“The patient can’t have a lot of other underlying medical problems,” he said. “This would be perfect for the 50-year-old guy who goes into cardiac arrest while playing tennis, or a 45-year-old lady who gets off a plane and has a large blood clot. Unfortunately (when it comes to) someone with end stage liver disease or end stage lung disease, we don’t do this...because they have such a high chance of dying.”

Marinaro said he hopes this device will become more prevalent in hospitals across New Mexico. For now, he said he is glad this machine is helping his team save patients in critical care.

“All of the doctors and nurses who work (with) me at University Hospital love saving lives and taking care of the sickest people in the state,” Marinaro said. “It’s why we got into this specialty — we didn’t get into critical care to give up.”

Mikhaela Smith is a news reporter at the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at or on Twitter @MikhaelaSmith18.