TriStar Centennial
June 24, 2022

Nashville, TN – When TriStar Centennial Medical Center began its ECMO program in 2018, no one knew the important role the treatment would play during the COVID-19 pandemic. Many people had never heard of Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO), a life-support treatment for patients with severe heart or lung failure, until it became widely sought-after for patients with severe COVID-19.

While ECMO does not treat a patient’s disease, it does support the body while it tries to heal by pumping blood that is low in oxygen out of the body through an oxygenator where carbon dioxide is removed and oxygen is added. The oxygen-rich blood is then pumped back into the body.

“ECMO is an incredibly complex treatment that can give critically ill patients a fighting chance to recover from a disease by essentially replicating lung function outside of the body,” said Dr. Elliot Cohen, co-medical director of ECMO at TriStar Centennial. “Our program has grown exponentially in the four years since it’s been established, as we are able to care for the most critically ill patients in Nashville, Middle Tennessee and our surrounding states.”

TriStar Centennial’s multidisciplinary ECMO team is available 24/7 to support the critical healthcare needs of the region. Through TriStar Health’s SkyLife Air Transport program, specialists are able to begin ECMO treatment at outlying hospitals before transferring the patient to TriStar Centennial.

While the majority of ECMO patients in the last two years have needed the treatment to help recover from severe COVID-19 and acute respiratory failure, there are other diseases that benefit from the highly-specialized service, including cardiogenic shock, heart failure and other diseases where a patient may suffer from respiratory failure.

“The ECMO team at TriStar Centennial has incredible expertise and experience caring for ECMO patients. It takes an entire group of cardiothoracic surgeons, cardiologists, intensive care physicians, perfusion specialists and specially trained nurses and providers to care for each one of our patients,” said Dr. Thomas McRae, co-medical director of ECMO at TriStar Centennial. “Beyond the specialized training and clinical knowledge, our team gets to know each one of our patients and their families. Our patients become like family to us, and we celebrate with them as they reach their recovery goals.”

To learn more about the heart and vascular program at TriStar Centennial, go to

Photo: Former ECMO patient Kathy Wilson (center) pictured with her sister, Monika Kieffer (left) and members of the ECMO team at TriStar Centennial. More than 50 ECMO patients returned to TriStar Centennial on April 30, 2022, for the hospital’s first ECMO Reunion. Patients reconnected with their physicians and nurses and celebrated their recovery progress.