What is a perfusionist?
Perfusionists are clinical scientists who employ artificial blood pumps to keep the blood of open-heart surgery patients moving through their body tissue, replacing the function of the heart and lungs, while the cardiac surgeon operates. When a patients’ blood is continuously removed and returned through artificial organs and tubing, it is called “extra-corporeal circulation" (ECC), or outside the body blood circulation.
Perfusionists combine sterile tubing and artificial organs to build an ECC to meet the needs for various specialist surgical requirements. The most common conditions requiring ECC are coronary artery disease, heart valve disease, congenital defects and surgery to transplant both the heart and lungs. To connect an ECC to a patient, the surgeon must place special tubes called “cannula” into the patient’s major blood vessels.
The perfusionists’ responsibilities during surgical procedures are to:
- Control blood flow
- Control blood temperature
- Maintain adequate blood gas exchange
- Maintain myocardial protection
As well as this the perfusionist provides intra-operative cell salvage support so as to minimise the need for blood transfusion. Perfusionists are also responsible for long-term heart and lung support in the form of intra aortic balloon pumping (IABP), left and right ventricular assist devices (LVAD, RVAD) and extra corporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO).
Harefield Hospital perfusion
The perfusion department provides perfusion services and cell salvage for all types of cardiac surgery, including transplantation.
Head of perfusion: Timothy Pitt
Location: cardiac theatres, Harefield Hospital
Telephone: 01895 828 619
Monday - Friday: 8am-6pm (on-call service provided after 6pm)
Saturday - Sunday: On call service provided
Royal Brompton Hospital perfusion
Head of perfusion: Tim Jackson
Location: Third floor, Sydney Wing, Royal Brompton Hospital
Telephone: 020 7351 8479
Monday - Friday: 07:30-17:30
There is also a 24-hour on-call service.
The team provides a range of perfusion services both in the operating theatre and intensive care units, for patients undergoing cardiac surgery. These include the running of the heart-lung machine.
All clinical perfusionists are accredited by the Society of Clinical Perfusion Scientists.