Icy Treatments Revive the Dead

October 30, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
Sudden cardiac arrest kills as many as 325,000 Americans every year ... only 5 percent survive when it strikes. Living through it depends on the speed of emergency help: If the heart isn't restarted within five minutes, the chance of recovery drops dramatically. Researchers are developing two new icy ways to cool the body, saving time and lives.Sixty-two-year-old Bill Bondar arrived home energized from a jam session with his new band ... that's when the unthinkable happened.

"I was coming back from my car carrying my guitar," Bill told Ivanhoe. "Never made it."

His wife, Monica, remembers the exact spot where her husband hit the ground.

"When I looked in his eyes, I was looking at a dead man," Monica told Ivanhoe.

Paramedics restarted Bill's heart -- but he was in a coma. Doctors chilled his body by six degrees to save his brain.

"When you're in that in-between -- and that's where most patients are after cardiac arrest -- I believe that cooling is just vital, particularly to protect brain function," Lance Becker, M.D., director of the Department of Resuscitation Science at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, told Ivanhoe.

"The fact that I woke up and I was intact is amazing," Bill said.

Dr. Becker is working on a new, faster way to cool patients in the critical minutes. It's called an ice slurry. The tiny slivers of ice and saline would be injected into a patient in the ambulance. Dr. Becker says the slurry works faster and gets colder than the saline, blankets or pads doctors use now.

"They transfer far, far, far more cooling capacity than just ice water, so you can think of it as a super dose of ice-cold saline," Dr. Becker explained.

Researchers in California are also working on an icy solution that's sprayed through the nose to cool the brain during cardiac arrest.

They're tools that can bring the "nearly" dead back ... for a second chance at life.

Dr. Becker says once patients' hearts have been stopped for five minutes, every minute after reduces the chance of survival by 10 percent. Doctors say the cooling technique reduces the amount of oxygen the brain and heart need to keep working.

FOR MORE INFORMATION, PLEASE CONTACT:
Center for Resuscitation Science
University of Pennsylvania
http://www.med.upenn.edu/resuscitation

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