Mechanical ventilation is a life support treatment that helps people breathe when they are unable to breathe on their own. Depending on a patient’s medical condition, a ventilator—also referred to as a respirator or breathing machine—can support or completely control breathing for a short period of time or long-term. With conventional mechanical ventilation, a patient is connected to a ventilator through a tube in the mouth (endotracheal tube) or in the neck (a tracheostomy tube). Non-invasive ventilation is a newer treatment method delivered through a mask. Mechanical ventilation may be needed for a variety of conditions including sepsis, pneumonia, and heart failure.
Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO) is an advanced type of mechanical life support that removes blood from the body, oxygenates and removes carbon dioxide from that blood, and then returns the blood to the body, allowing the patient's damaged lungs or heart time to recover. There are two kinds of ECMO: venoarterial, which supports the heart and the lungs; and venovenous, which is oxygenation support only for the lungs. ECMO also serves as a bridge for patients with severe heart and respiratory failure prior to and following surgery, including lung transplantation.
Board-certified pulmonologists, critical care medicine physicians and thoracic surgeons at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) Lung Center lead a multidisciplinary team of mechanical ventilation and ECMO specialists alongside cardiac surgeons and anesthesiologists. Together with respiratory therapists and nurses, they care for people with highly complex respiratory issues in our state-of-the-art critical care inpatient units. Our collaborative approach enables physicians to handle the most challenging cases, with a range of traditional technology and minimally invasive options. We are dedicated to improving lung function and helping patients breathe on their own again so they can regain independence.