What is a perfusionist?

A perfusionist is a specially trained individual who operates the heart lung machine during cardiac surgery.  The heart lung machine is connected by tubing to the patient's heart during most heart surgeries, and it both circulates the blood and gives it oxygen.  This allows the heart to be completely still for the surgeon to construct coronary bypasses.  It allows the surgeon to open the heart to perform valve surgery or repair heart defects.  The perfusionist sets up the heart lung machine prior to the case, controls the flow of the blood through the machine during the surgery, monitors the patient during the time on the machine, and assists with lab tests during the surgery.  The perfusionist also is in charge of the cell saver.  The cell saver is a machine into which the shed blood of a surgery is suctioned.  When enough blood is shed, the blood cells are separated out by the machine and then given back to the patient.  This makes it less likely that the patient will need a blood transfusion.  To be a perfusionist, one must complete a program at an accredited perfusion school.  The perfusionist is then eligible to work and apply for certification by the perfusion specialty board. 
A perfusionist is the medical professional who operates the heart-lung bypass machine during bypass surgery. The machine takes over the responsibilities of the heart (to pump blood to the body) and lungs (to exchange carbon dioxide in the blood for oxygen) during the heart surgery. Having a machine take over for the heart allows the surgical team to stop the patient’s heart. The surgeon then grafts a vessel to the clogged artery to create a bypass around a blockage.

The perfusionist may be a specially trained nurse or technician who has been certified by the American Board of Cardiovascular Perfusion. Those who are not certified should have at least two years of supervised experience working in an operating room during open-heart surgeries.

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