Heart-lung machine saves lives: 14,000 patients already operate in 5 minutes

The heart-lung machine is used for all major heart operations such as bypass operations or interventions on the heart valves. “The machine takes over the function of the heart and lungs and ensures that the entire blood circulation in the body continues to function,” explains Prim. Wolfgang Wandschneider, Head of the Department of Cardiac, Thoracic and Vascular Surgery at the Klagenfurt Clinic. Only then is a heart operation possible, during which the heart must be immobilized. In addition, the blood can be “stored” with the help of a heart-lung machine. “This means that the patient usually does not need any blood reserves for these interventions, but his own blood is supplied again.” The blood temperature – and thus the temperature of the patient – is also controlled via the device. This is used, for example, for severely hypothermic avalanche victims.

Use in the pandemic

But heart-lung machines are also used in the current pandemic. Wandschneider: “You support patients who suffer from lung failure due to the COVID-19 disease”. Patients at the Klagenfurt am Wörthersee Clinic for their severe COVID-19 disease have to be treated with the heart-lung machine on an ongoing basis. This highly complex machine is operated by a specially trained cardiac technician who is an important member of the surgical team. Thanks to the substantial technical development of the heart-lung machine, even complex and lengthy operations can now be carried out with great safety.

Patients are getting older

Around 450 interventions with circulatory support are carried out at the Klagenfurt am Wörthersee Clinic each year. Recently the 14,000. The patient is operated on with the aid of the heart-lung machine or treated with circulatory support. “This number will probably continue to rise in the next few years, as will the age of the patients,” calculates Wandschneider. The reasons are the increasing life expectancy of the population and the ever gentler methods of cardiac surgery. “We are now able to successfully treat patients over the age of 80,” explains Wandschneider from the practice. The greatest challenge for very old people: “Due to frequent accompanying diseases, this group of patients has a significantly higher risk as well as longer stays in the hospital,” says the Primarius, pointing out that this is precisely the point where you have to start. “New methods are constantly being developed in order to be able to offer these patients adequate therapy. The quality of life should be preserved. “


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