Objective. Although extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) has been responsible for the improved survival of infants with cardiorespiratory failure, its use over the last decade has raised concern as to the health of the survivors and the severity of neurodevelopmental sequelae. Though infants meeting ECMO criteria have a variety of reasons prompting the use of this therapy, most studies to date have simply reported outcome on the entire population that has survived without regard to the original nature of the child's illness. The purpose of this study was to determine the type and extent of health-related problems and neurodevelopmental sequelae in infants requiring ECMO therapy and the association of these findings with the infants' primary diagnosis.

Methods. Eighty-two neonates required ECMO therapy between May 1990 and December 1993. The most common diagnoses prompting ECMO therapy included 26% with meconium aspiration syndrome, 34% with congenital diaphragmatic hernia (CDH), 16% with persistence of the fetal circulation, and 9% with sepsis. Information concerning the hospital course was obtained through chart review, and the infants were seen at 6 and 12 months of age for medical and neurodevelopmental follow-up. Data were analyzed using descriptive statistics and Fisher's exact test, t-tests, and analysis of variance where appropriate. Assessment of hospital course and discharge data focused on the four main diagnostic groups, whereas follow-up data were further limited to the two most frequently encountered groups (meconium aspiration syndrome and CDH).

Results. Overall survival was 79%. Significant differences in survival were noted based on primary diagnostic category. Those with CDH fared the worst, with an overall survival rate of 68% and a more complicated hospital course with a longer duration of ECMO. At discharge, the CDH group demonstrated a greater incidence of bronchopulmonary dysplasia, gastroesophageal reflux, feeding dysfunction, and hypotonia. No significant differences were noted in the incidence of intraventricular hemorrhage, cerebral infarction, extra-axial fluid collection, or seizures. Hearing loss was uncommon. During the first year of life, although no differences were noted in growth rate, infants in the CDH group continued to experience a higher incidence of gastroesophageal reflux (43%) and feeding dysfunction, with 36% of this group requiring tube feedings for nourishment. Although 40% of the entire ECMO population was diagnosed with bronchopulmonary dysplasia before initial discharge, by 1 year of age, 50% of those with CDH versus 17% of those with meconium aspiration syndrome continued to be clinically symptomatic. Although the ECMO population as a whole scored in the normal range developmentally, CDH infants had significantly lower motor and slightly lower cognitive scores at 1 year of age. Despite finding abnormal muscle tone in a high percentage of the entire ECMO population at discharge, most demonstrated resolution by 1 year of age. Of the CDH infants, however, 75% continued to evidence some degree of hypotonicity, which affected acquisition and quality of gross motor skills.

Conclusion. Despite the impact that ECMO has had on the survival of infants with severe respiratory failure, the efficacy of ECMO cannot be assessed accurately without an analysis of the extent and morbidity in the surviving population. Most centers are reporting relatively low morbidity for the entire ECMO population. However, upon separating this population into primary diagnostic categories, we found that the CDH population encountered a greater number of neurodevelopmental, respiratory, and feeding abnormalities during the first year of life. The reasons for these differences are unclear but may be related to the severity of the primary illness itself or the variables associated with prolonged ECMO therapy. Stratifying outcome by primary diagnosis gives the health care provider more information to improve existing intervention techniques and to provide parents with more accurate counseling.

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