For patients like Kinsey Morgan, an amazing machine called ECMO can provide lifesaving care. See why this machine – and the team behind it at Levine Children's Hospital – are receiving global recognition.

News | 4 years ago

When the Heart and Lungs Need Extra Support, ECMO Brings Hope

An amazing technology called ECMO acts as the heart and lungs for children who need time to heal. Learn why our ECMO team at Levine Children’s Hospital earned one of the world’s highest distinctions for their exceptional patient care.

When Kinsey Morgan was 14 years old, a miraculous machine – and the amazing team behind it – saved her life. 

In the days following her fifth open heart surgery at Levine Children’s Hospital, Kinsey’s right lung collapsed. During the procedure to repair her lung, an extremely rare complication blocked her ability to breathe. Her doctors feverishly performed CPR for the next 25 minutes, while a specialized team hooked her up to the machine that provided lifesaving extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, or ECMO.

“If Kinsey had not had access to ECMO, there is no doubt in my mind that she would not be here today,” says Kristine, her mother. Over the next five days, Kinsey was stabilized on the ECMO machine, which allowed her heart, lungs and kidneys to rest while it added oxygen to her blood, as healthy lungs would.

Global Recognition for Excellence

This year, the ECMO team at LCH was recognized for providing the kind of care that helped Kinsey survive. Along with Carolinas Medical Center, LCH earned the Gold Level ELSO Award for Excellence in Life Support. They were one of only 44 centers worldwide – and the only one in Charlotte – to receive this distinction this year. ELSO is the Extracorporeal Life Support Organization, an international nonprofit that champions and supports ECMO programs across the globe.

Based on performance, patient satisfaction, quality and innovation, the Gold Level award signifies LCH’s commitment to giving exceptional patient care. “Not only do we perform to the highest standards, but we have the state-of-the-art equipment, specialized protocols and advanced education that sets us apart from other centers around the world,” says Shellie O’Day, a registered respiratory therapist and the ECMO program coordinator for Levine Children’s Hospital.

Started in 1986, the ECMO program at LCH now offers care to nearly 25 children every year, including those with congenital heart defects, persistent pulmonary hypertension or pneumonia. The program also serves about an equal number of adult patients receiving care at Carolinas Medical Center.

Life Support – And Personal Support 

Although today’s ECMO machines are only a fraction of the size of older systems, their many tubes and lines can be an overwhelming sight for families, says O’Day.

Back in 2012, when Kristine saw her daughter connected to her ECMO machine – “hooked up to more things than I ever thought possible” – she and her family were stunned.

But the ECMO team quickly helped the Morgans feel at ease. The nurses never left Kinsey’s room, monitoring her vitals at all hours of the day and night. When she began to improve, they painted Kinsey’s fingernails and fixed her hair. “She mattered to them,” recalls Kristine.

Today, Kinsey is 19 and a first-year college student, with plans to become a digital artist. For other families whose children are being treated with this “life support on steroids,” the Morgans offer advice, counseling – and hope. It’s just one way they are showing gratitude for a team that gave so much to their own family. 

“The ECMO nurses are so special not just because of what they do but who they are – how passionate they are about their work,” says Kristine. “They are like a part of our family now.”