ECMO in the Time of COVID-19

Samantha and Ian, Covid-19 survivors, pose at the WVU Heart and Vascular Institute on November 16, 2021.

ECMO in the Time of COVID-19

After testing positive for COVID-19, Samantha Oravec, a 28-year-old mother in her third trimester of pregnancy, did not imagine landing intubated in the emergency room. After a successful C-section to save her baby, mechanical ventilation started causing steep declines in Samantha’s respiratory status as it became clear that the virus was overtaking her lungs. Dr. J.W. Awori Hayanga, cardiothoracic surgeon and director of the Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO) Program at the West Virginia University (WVU) Heart and Vascular Institute, was called in and approved Samantha as a candidate for the Novalung® Therapy.

What is Novalung?

Novalung is an ECMO system that is used to provide temporary support to the heart and lungs in cases of severe respiratory or cardiac failure. When it received FDA clearance in February 2020, Novalung was the first ECMO system to be cleared for more than six hours of use. This unique indication has proven critical in saving lives of patients like Samantha in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.

For Dr. Hayanga, the benefits of ECMO for patients who test positive for COVID-19, include consistently improving the patient’s health, facilitating treatment with measures that provide an alternative to mechanical ventilation.

“Every patient with COVID-19 that we’ve treated who was evaluated for ECMO and could not go on this heart and lung therapy, died. Let me repeat that: every patient who was evaluated as a candidate for this therapy and was not put on ECMO, did not survive. Being able to intervene and save some of these patients is what keeps our team going.” – Dr. J.W. Awori Hayanga, WVU Heart and Vascular Institute


Road to Recovery

Thankfully, Samantha responded well to the Novalung treatment and was initially able to stay off ECMO for eight days after her lung strength showed steady improvements.

“I didn’t know what ECMO was until I woke up on it. Compared to being on a respirator, ECMO was nice because I didn’t have the distress of breathing – I wasn’t fighting for air. I could walk around the hospital with my ECMO machine. It’s just incredible how a machine like that can keep you alive and keep your organs resting, but still let you do things like talk to your family and walk around.” – Samantha Oravec, patient

Unfortunately, Samantha’s infection returned and required a second round of ECMO, which restored her health just in time to celebrate Mother’s Day in the hospital with her son and new baby. Once stabilized, Samantha was able to return home to her family, and in approximately three weeks, the shortness of breath and racing heart rate that she experienced as a result of COVID-19 had drastically improved. Now, she and her sons go on walks every day, which has continued to greatly help her recovery.  


ECMO as a Lifesaving Treatment

Samantha’s story is one of many successful outcomes that depict the value of integrating ECMO treatment into COVID-19 care when patients experience acute respiratory or cardiac failure. Dr. Hayanga has also had success treating other pregnant women with ECMO. With this experience, his team of nurses and ECMO specialists have begun to conduct high fidelity simulations that allow them to be uniquely experienced in treating pregnant mothers requiring ECMO. Working with the network of caretakers that support pregnant women, it is critical to have specialists involved who can collaborate in the face of new and emergent situations, like a progressing COVID-19 infection.

“When you look at the COVID-19 treatment landscape during the pandemic, there is a need for integration and sharing of resources. The role of ECMO systems like Novalung in this context is to be a cog in the wheel of that treatment paradigm. As medical professionals and stewards of these resources, it is imperative that when a global pandemic hits a population, the medical community effectively uses every life-saving technology at their disposal.”- Dr. J.W. Awori Hayanga, WVU Heart and Vascular Institute

As the medical community continues to face the reality of the evolving pandemic, conversations around the best treatments available to care for patients like Samantha are critical. ECMO has proven to be a key technology to treat the sudden heart and lung failure caused by COVID-19.

Discover more about the Novalung ECMO system


Indications For Use

The Novalung System is indicated for long-term (>6 hours) respiratory/cardiopulmonary support that provides assisted extracorporeal circulation and physiologic gas exchange (oxygenation and CO2 removal) of the patient’s blood in adults with acute respiratory failure or acute cardiopulmonary failure, where other available treatment options have failed, and continued clinical deterioration is expected or the risk of death is imminent. These may include:

  • Failure to wean from cardiopulmonary bypass following cardiac surgery in adult patients
  • ECMO-assisted cardiopulmonary resuscitation in adults



Caution: Federal (US) law restricts these devices to sale by or on the order of a physician.

Note: Read the Instructions for Use for safe and proper use of these devices. The Indications for Use  can be found on our Indications, Safety and Warnings page.

© 2021 Fresenius Medical Care. All Rights Reserved. Fresenius Medical Care, the triangle logo and Novalung are trademarks of Fresenius Medical Care Holdings, Inc. or its affiliated companies.

All other trademarks are the property of their respective owners. P/N 104979-01 Rev A 11/2021

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