The pathology was reviewed of the early deaths identified from the first 50 neonates treated with extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) during its introduction to the UK. Fifteen neonates died during or shortly after ECMO between August 1989 and June 1992. Data on 12 are presented (three did not have a postmortem examination). The clinical diagnoses at referral for ECMO were as follows: persistent pulmonary hypertension of the newborn (six infants), primary congenital pneumonia (one infant), community acquired pneumonia (two infants), birth asphyxia (one infant), respiratory distress syndrome (one infant), and meconium aspiration syndrome (one infant). In our group, at necropsy, five had significant haemorrhage (three intracranial, one pulmonary, one pericardial and intraventricular). Three of five infants with evidence of haemorrhage also had signs of sepsis. Six infants had evidence at necropsy of systemic sepsis, five showed evidence of severe anoxic brain injury, and four infants had cerebellar haemorrhages. Three infants had evidence of myocardial ischaemia. It is difficult to discriminate between the relative influence of the primary diagnosis, the mode of treatment, and the severity of presentation in the genesis of this pathology. It is likely that the extent and severity of some of the findings represent a pathological progression that would have been interrupted by the death of the patient, had ECMO not been instituted.
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