The work of Clinical Perfusionists is literally heart-stopping – and the patients they treat are often too sick to remember them.
The work of perfusionists is extremely specialized; they mostly work in the operating room during cardiac surgeries and in critical care units with the sickest patients in the hospital. A major part of a perfusionist’s job is cardiopulmonary bypass, which involves the use of a heart-lung machine. In order for the surgeons to repair the heart, the perfusionist has to stop it from beating first, while the surgeon isolates the heart from the rest of the circulatory system. The perfusionist operates the heart-lung machine and keeps the patient alive while the surgeons do their work.
Dr. Erick McNair is a clinical perfusionist in Saskatchewan.
Other work perfusionists do includes cell saving or auto-transfusion, which involves collecting and washing a patient’s shed blood from the operative field, before giving the patient’s own blood back to them.
Perfusionists also help treat patients in who need a specialized pump to be placed in their aorta that allows the heart to rest.
Perfusionists also support patients on Extra Corporeal Life Support (ECLS), including Extra Corporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO). ECMO involves a machine that circulates and oxygenates a patient’s blood outside of their body, requiring around-the-clock bedside care from perfusionists.