- Research Letter
- Open Access
Short and long-term outcomes of patients with COVID-19-associated acute respiratory distress syndrome and difficult veno-venous-ECMO weaning
Critical Care volume 25, Article number: 337 (2021)
To the editor,
The 2019 coronavirus pandemic induced a massive influx of patients with acute respiratory distress syndrome , a part of them requiring veno-venous (VV)-extra-corporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) support . A consensus of experts has recently published recommendations on VV-ECMO weaning [3, 4], derived from the EOLIA trial . VV-ECMO weaning should be tested when native lung function has sufficiently recovered, allowing for adequate oxygenation and protective mechanical ventilation [e.g., ventilator FiO2 ≤ 60%, tidal volume ≥ 6 mL/kg of predicted body weight (PBW), respiratory rate ≤ 28/min, plateau pressure (Pplat) ≤ 28 cmH2O)]. Success criteria of a weaning test (with the membrane ventilation decreased to 0 L/min) for safe decannulation from ECMO are typically as follows: PaO2 ≥ 60 mmHg and PaCO2 ≤ 50 mmHg or pH ≥ 7.36 with ventilator FiO2 ≤ 60% and protective mechanical ventilation. However, some patients may undergo ECMO decannulation without meeting readiness to wean criteria and/or succeeding the weaning test.
The aim of this monocentre retrospective cohort study was to report the outcome of patients who underwent a conventional ECMO weaning (withdrawal after readiness to wean and successful weaning test as per EOLIA criteria)  to that of patients who underwent an unconventional facilitative weaning (because of a serious complication of VV-ECMO or lack of respiratory system mechanics improvement despite prolonged support (i.e., ≥ 10 days) in patients who have recovered a satisfactory native lung oxygenation, which justifies withdrawal despite no readiness to wean and/or unsuccessful weaning test). No other treatment was discontinued after ECMO weaning. Fifty-one COVID-19 patients admitted between March 2020 and June 2021 in our French tertiary center who required VV-ECMO support were included in the study. Seventeen patients (33%) died on VV-ECMO, whereas 34 (67%) were weaned off VV-ECMO, including 30 who were discharged alive from our ICU (three patients died and one is still in our ICU). Eighteen patients presented the criteria for facilitative weaning while 16 underwent conventional weaning. VV-ECMO weaning was justified in the facilitative group by one or more of the following: major bleeding (n = 5), infection (n = 2), severe hemolysis (n = 2), no respiratory function improvement despite prolonged duration of VV-ECMO support (n = 12, median [interquartile range 25–75] duration: 24 days [13–43]). Patients of the facilitative weaning group had more complications before VV-ECMO weaning, more often required prone position after VV-ECMO withdrawal, and had longer mechanical ventilation support and ICU length of stay than their counterparts (Table 1). Only two patients with facilitative weaning and one patient with conventional weaning died in the ICU. Strikingly, respiratory system mechanics, gas exchanges and CT-scan were more impaired at the time VV-ECMO was weaned off with facilitative versus conventional strategy (Table 1), consistent with a lung fibrosing process in the former group. Notably, the high plateau and driving pressure levels measured in this group were observed while ventilating patients with low tidal volumes as 75% of these were receiving less than 6 mL/kg PBW. Interestingly, no differences were observed regarding echocardiography, pulmonary function tests and chest CT-scan patterns of lung fibrosis in a subgroup of patients followed-up until 3–6 months of hospital discharge, except for more traction bronchiectasis in patients who underwent facilitative weaning (Table 2).
Despite they did not meet the classical weaning criteria [3, 4], patients with facilitative weaning had a low ICU mortality. At long-term follow-up, they also showed good recovery on pulmonary function tests and chest CT imaging. These data illustrate that VV-ECMO withdrawal criteria could be less restrictive, especially in patients developing life-threatening complications under VV-ECMO support or with reasonable recovery of native lung oxygenation function but no improvement of respiratory system mechanics. Our results need to be confirmed and the best ventilator settings to be applied after ECMO weaning to be further studied.
Availability of data and materials
The dataset used during the current study is available from the corresponding author upon reasonable request.
Body mass index
- DLCO :
Haemoglobin value corrected diffusion capacity with CO
Forced expiratory vital capacity
Intensive care unit
CO transfer coefficient
Predicted body weight
Positive end-expiratory pressure
- P plat :
Simplified acute physiology score 2
Total lung capacity
Veno-venous extra-corporeal membrane oxygenation
COVID-ICU Group on behalf of the REVA Network and the COVID-ICU Investigators. Clinical characteristics and day-90 outcomes of 4244 critically ill adults with COVID-19: a prospective cohort study. Intensive Care Med. 2021;47:60–73.
Barbaro RP, MacLaren G, Boonstra PS, Iwashyna TJ, Slutsky AS, Fan E, et al. Extracorporeal membrane oxygenation support in COVID-19: an international cohort study of the Extracorporeal Life Support Organization registry. Lancet. 2020;396:1071–8.
Combes A, Schmidt M, Hodgson CL, Fan E, Ferguson ND, Fraser JF, et al. Extracorporeal life support for adults with acute respiratory distress syndrome. Intensive Care Med. 2020;46:2464–76.
Abrams D, Schmidt M, Pham T, Beitler JR, Fan E, Goligher EC, et al. Mechanical ventilation for acute respiratory distress syndrome during extracorporeal life support. Research and practice. Am J Respir Crit Care Med. 2020;201:514–25.
Combes A, Hajage D, Capellier G, Demoule A, Lavoué S, Guervilly C, et al. Extracorporeal membrane oxygenation for severe acute respiratory distress syndrome. N Engl J Med. 2018;378:1965–75.
The authors would like to thank Dr Thomas d’Humières for performing cardiac echocardiographies and Dr Frédéric Schlemmer for patients’ long-term follow-up, Arnoux Morgane, Adam Thomas and all the physicians and nurses of the medical ICU, Henri Mondor Hospital, Créteil, France, who took care of the patients.
This work did not receive any funding.
Ethics approval and consent to participate
This is an ancillary study of an observational study on acute respiratory failure in COVID-19 patients approved by the Comité de Protection des Personnes (CPP Nord Ouest IV, no 2020-A03009-30). Patients or their relatives received information that data abstracted from their medical charts could be used for research purposes.
Consent for publication
Authors declare no competing interest for this work.
Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.
About this article
Cite this article
Masi, P., Tuffet, S., Boyer, L. et al. Short and long-term outcomes of patients with COVID-19-associated acute respiratory distress syndrome and difficult veno-venous-ECMO weaning. Crit Care 25, 337 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1186/s13054-021-03758-4