What happens when a machine designed for saving lives ends in a mortality?

Life-support machines (or ECMO machines) are used to keep people alive when their cardiac and respiratory systems are failing. They’re often the last chance to help critically ill patients recover, and take care of pumping blood and oxygen around the body. These life-saving machines are used for infants, children and adults, and to date have saved tens of thousands of lives worldwide.

However, there’s also a downside to these machines, and it’s something pretty simple; to work, they need large tubes to be inserted into main veins and arteries. There are no guidelines for keeping these tubes secure, and sometimes they fall out.

While IV drips (such as central lines) falling out generally won’t cause any harm, an ECMO tube becoming dislodged can be fatal.

ECMO machines pump blood around the body at a rate of several litres per minute. If these tubes don’t stay secure, sometimes stopping the bleeding is impossible.

A team of nurses from the Critical Care Research Group at The Prince Charles Hospital have decided to take action against this preventable problem. Rebecca Taylor, supported by Tess Bull and Amanda Corley, is carrying out an international survey to all ECMO centres around the world, to better understand the best way to manage securing these tubes. This will hopefully lead to new and improved guidelines for ECMO tubes, separate from the current CDC guidelines for central lines.

Working alongside this team, young researcher Jamaal Suby is looking at creating a device that stops these tubes from becoming dislodged – and they’re already testing this device in the lab!

Thanks to the tireless dedication of our nurses in research at The Prince Charles Hospital, a life-saving solution for a life-saving machine could be just around the corner!