The Avalon bicaval catheter has revolutionized veno-venous extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (VV-ECMO) by allowing us to place a single catheter which can simultaneously drain venous blood from the central circulation (superior and inferior vena cavas) to deliver oxygenated blood directly into the heart.
How does this work? The catheter has a dual lumen construction (one for venous inflow, one for venous outflow) which requires careful positioning utilizing fluoroscopy or echocardiography. The right internal jugular vein is accessed and a guidewire is threaded past the heart into the inferior vena cava (IVC) with subsequent dilation of the vein using progressively larger dilators. Avalon catheters come in sizes ranging from 13 to 31 French. For comparison, many of the hemodialysis catheters I’ve placed are 13.5 French.
It’s important for the outflow to be directed towards the tricuspid valve to ensure proper flows during VV-ECMO. By having the catheter in the neck, these patients can ambulate while waiting for a lung transplant, resolution of their pulmonary process, etc. Something to always keep in mind is movement of the catheter can lead to suction events, inadequate flows, or remixing of blood resulting in hypoxemia.
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