Big Chill Saves Hearts

August 22, 2009 10:47:46 AM PDT
It's been used to help spinal cord injury patients walk again. Now, the ancient cooling technique of hypothermia is also helping heart patients. Doctors say the odds of walking out of the hospital after cardiac arrest are slim, but for one woman, a chilly reception in the emergency room saved her life.Marlene and Edison Russell's marriage has been a 56-year love affair.

High school sweethearts, honeymooners, grandparents, and now Edison has a new title for his wife.

"Now, she's my miracle lady," Edison told Ivanhoe.

The couple was at home when Marlene's heart stopped. As paramedics rushed her to the ER, they shocked her back to life. Her heart was beating, but she was unconscious.

"I kept waiting for the gates to open and for me to see a light, but that didn't happen," Marlene told Ivanhoe.

Cardiac arrest patients who make it to the hospital with a pulse have a 30-percent or less chance of survival. However, one new study shows inducing hypothermia boosts those odds to 50-percent.

Doctors typically inject cold saline into the patients and keep them cool with pads. The body's temperature drops to 33 degrees Celsius, which is about 91 degrees Fahrenheit.

"It's not rocket science, which is the nice thing," William David Freeman, M.D., NeuroICU Director at Mayo Clinic Florida in Jacksonville, Fla., told Ivanhoe. "All you need is ice packs or cold saline."

Doctors believe it gives the brain a break while other organs compete for oxygen, reduces swelling and protects brain cells from further damage.

"When you make the body and the brain cold, you reduce the brain's metabolism," Dr. Freeman said.

Doctors kept Marlene cool for 24 hours.

"Really, I shouldn't be here," she said.

Hypothermia is a process paramedics can even start in the field. It is also being used to help reduce brain swelling for stroke patients and trauma injuries.

FOR MORE INFORMATION, PLEASE CONTACT:
Cindy Nelson, Public Affairs
Mayo Clinic
Jacksonville, FL
(904) 953-0464
Nelson.cynthia1@mayo.edu

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