Venovenous extracorporeal membrane oxygenation after cardiac arrest for acute respiratory distress syndrome caused by Legionella: a case report

John C. Grotberg, Linda Schulte, Erin Schumer, Mary Sullivan, Kunal Kotkar, Mohammad F. Masood, Amit Pawale

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Legionella remains underdiagnosed in the intensive care unit and can progress to acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), multiorgan failure and death. In severe cases, venovenous extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (VV-ECMO) allows time for resolution of disease with Legionella-targeted therapy. VV-ECMO outcomes for Legionella are favorable with reported survival greater than 70%. Rapid molecular polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing of the lower respiratory tract aids in diagnosing Legionella with high sensitivity and specificity. We present a unique case of a patient with a positive COVID-19 test and ARDS who suffered a cardiac arrest. The patient was subsequently cannulated for VV-ECMO, and after lower respiratory tract PCR testing, Legionella was determined to be the cause. She was successfully treated and decannulated from VV-ECMO after eight days. Case presentation: A 53-year-old female presented with one week of dyspnea and a positive COVID-19 test. She was hypoxemic, hypotensive and had bilateral infiltrates on imaging. She received supplemental oxygen, intravenous fluids, vasopressors, broad spectrum antibiotics, and was transferred to a tertiary care center. She developed progressive hypoxemia and suffered a cardiac arrest, requiring ten minutes of CPR and endotracheal intubation to achieve return of spontaneous circulation. Despite mechanical ventilation and paralysis, she developed refractory hypoxemia and was cannulated for VV-ECMO. Dexamethasone and remdesivir were given for presumed COVID-19. Bronchoscopy with bronchoalveolar lavage (BAL) performed with PCR testing was positive for Legionella pneumophila and negative for COVID-19. Steroids and remdesivir were discontinued and she was treated with azithromycin. Her lung compliance improved, and she was decannulated after eight days on VV-ECMO. She was discharged home on hospital day 16 breathing room air and neurologically intact. Conclusions: This case illustrates the utility of rapid PCR testing to diagnose Legionella in patients with respiratory failure and the early use of VV-ECMO in patients with refractory hypoxemia secondary to Legionella infection. Moreover, many patients encountered in the ICU may have prior COVID-19 immunity, and though a positive COVID-19 test may be present, further investigation with lower respiratory tract PCR testing may provide alternative diagnoses. Patients with ARDS should undergo Legionella-specific testing, and if Legionella is determined to be the causative organism, early VV-ECMO should be considered in patients with refractory hypoxemia given reported high survival rates.

Original languageEnglish
Article number27
JournalJournal of Cardiothoracic Surgery
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2024


  • ARDS
  • COVID-19
  • Cardiac arrest
  • ECMO
  • Hypoxemia
  • Legionella


Dive into the research topics of 'Venovenous extracorporeal membrane oxygenation after cardiac arrest for acute respiratory distress syndrome caused by Legionella: a case report'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this