Therapeutic hypothermia used to stop brain tissue death

Therapeutic hypothermia used to stop brain tissue death

Hypothermia occurs when a person's body temperature drops below 95 degrees.  It is a condition that typically requires immediate medical attention to live, so you might be surprised to learn that it is intentionally being used in local hospitals to treat cardiac patients.

In a cardiac emergency, time equals heart and brain tissue.  CHRISTUS St. Patrick Hospital cardiologist, Dr. Michael Turner says, "There is a lack of oxygen to the brain, which can cause brain damage over an extended period of time."

Dr. Turner has seen the bad outcomes that follow that lapse in time of the brain not getting oxygen: severe brain damage, even death.  "The shock to the brain tissue takes place over several hours after the cardiac arrest," he said.

Pam Savoie had no idea she was about to go into cardiac arrest when pain and numbness quickly took over her body at home.  "From my palms all the way up to my chest," she said, "I started feeling fatigued, shortness of breath, a little dizzy and I knew something strange was happening."

When Savoie got to the emergency room, her heart stopped beating - cutting off the blood flow and oxygen to her brain.  "During that time, if we cool the body, it protects the brain from further damage and allows almost complete recovery," said Dr. Turner.

Savoie was shocked eight times to get her heart going again, then put into a coma and her body temperature was lowered to 91 degrees inside the thermosuit.  "Cooling the body and the brain decreases the rate of metabolism and thus decreases the inflammation that actually causes damage to the brain," said Dr. Turner.

The patient's body will stay cool for hours after the removal of the thermosuit and gradually warm back up over the next 12 to 24 hours.  "We've seen at least ten people walk out of this hospital that I do not think would have survived without this sort of therapy," said Dr. Turner.

Dr. Turner was able to put a defibrillator into Savoie's chest as her body cooled, fixing her heart and protecting her brain. The outcome today is a happy, healthy wife and mom.  "I just try to enjoy my family and I'm thankful to God that I'm here and I just try to slow down and take life a little more slowly and enjoy it," she said.

The thermosuit can also be used for some patients with stroke, brain or spinal cord injuries.

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