Commonly referred to as ECMO, the life support system is an invaluable tool used to treat patients with severe, life-threatening heart and lung failure

During the height of the pandemic, COVID-19 patients flooded hospitals and filled intensive care units (ICUs) with severe cases and forced physicians to look for new ways to save lives.

Many doctors across the country looked to extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) as a possible treatment option to rescue critically ill COVID-19 patients from the brink of death. Also referred to as extracorporeal life support, ECMO replaces the function of the heart and lungs in patients with severe heart and/or lung failure.

The life-support system pumps blood from the patient’s body to an artificial lung (oxygenator) that adds oxygen to it and removes carbon dioxide. The ECMO machine then sends the blood back to the patient via a pump with the same force as the heart.

While ECMO machines have been used for decades to treat adults and children with severe lung or heart failure, no local hospitals had an ECMO program until now.

South Texas Health System Heart, the first hospital in the Rio Grande Valley with ECMO capabilities, is now among an elite group of hospitals nationwide able to provide ECMO therapy for the treatment of severe pulmonary issues and respiratory failure. 

“This ECMO treatment at STHS Heart will offer some of our most critically ill patients suffering from acute or chronic cardiac and respiratory failure an additional treatment option without needing to leave the Valley. While receiving ECMO life support, patients are monitored by our multidisciplinary team at all times,” says Brenda Ivory, Chief Executive Officer, South Texas Health System Heart. “This leading-edge technology and our highly trained staff, who have the advanced expertise required to execute this complicated and specialized procedure, will give our most severely ill patients a fighting chance at life.”

ECMO therapy requires a multi-disciplinary team, along with numerous other staff who provide support along a patient’s journey of care. This specialized team includes ECMO physicians, ECMO surgeons, ECMO cardiology specialists, ECMO intensivists, ECMO-trained nurses and ECMO-trained respiratory therapists.

STHS Heart has purchased the LifeSPARC® System, which is designed to simplify temporary cardiopulmonary bypass to give more patients access to this high-level support. The machine, built on more than 20 years of experience, is FDA 510(k) cleared for ECMO. It features TandemHeart®, the first-generation acute coronary syndrome (ACS) system, which simplified the priming process and increased the power of the pump, while leveraging the strengths of the previous generation system.

“There is a growing need for more efficient and accessible life support technology and, with the LifeSPARC pump and controller’s relative simplicity and portability, we have the opportunity to make ECMO an option for more patients,” Ivory says.

STHS Heart has already received its ECMO machine and will begin offering ECMO support for patients with severe heart and lung conditions including severe respiratory failure, cardiogenic shock and for heart or lung transplant candidates in early 2023. 

To learn more about ECMO, visit the STHS Heart website at

About South Texas Health System

South Texas Health System is a multi-facility healthcare system serving patients throughout the Rio Grande Valley. The system includes four acute care facility campuses with specialties in pediatrics, heart and vascular services, maternity and women’s health and trauma services. Inpatient and outpatient treatment for behavioral health needs and addictive disorders is also provided through the system's South Texas Health System Behavioral facility. South Texas Health System is affiliated with the South Texas Clinical Partners ACO, Prominence Health Plan, and Cornerstone Regional Hospital. The system operates an advanced Level I Trauma Center at South Texas Health System McAllen, the first and only freestanding children’s facility and pediatric ER at South Texas Health System Children’s, the region’s only freestanding heart hospital and specialized cardiac ER at South Texas Health System Heart, and six freestanding emergency rooms located in and around Weslaco, Mission, Edinburg, McAllen and Alamo. For more information about the system and its comprehensive services, please visit