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The latest miracle machine in modern medicine — whose use has skyrocketed in recent years — is saving people from the brink of death: adults whose lungs have been ravaged by the flu; a trucker who was trapped underwater in a crash; a man whose heart had stopped working for an astonishing seven hours.

But for each adult saved by this machine — dubbed ECMO, for extracorporeal membrane oxygenation — another adult hooked up to the equipment dies in the hospital. For those patients, the intervention is a very expensive, labor-intensive and unsuccessful effort to cheat death.

ECMO, the most aggressive form of life support available, pumps blood

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