Therapeutic hypothermia can boost brain function after cardiac arrest

Marshfield dentist Bill Berry, DDS, is a lucky man.

He's one of only eight percent of patients nationwide to survive a cardiac arrest, and of those, one of 30 percent able to return to a normal life. During his heart attack, Bill received immediate cardiopulmonary resuscitation, also known as CPR, and within two hours after arriving at the elEmergency Department at Ministry Saint Joseph's Hospital in Marshfield,therapeutic hypothermia.

Nearly 383,000 people annually in the United States suffer sudden cardiac arrest. Immediate CPR and emergency medical care must be provided within minutes to restore a heartbeat, or the person will not survive. After heart rhythm is restored, comatose patients may be treated with therapeutic cooling to prevent further damage to the brain and other tissue.

"Therapeutic hypothermia is an important therapy for a comatose survivor of cardiac arrest," said Chris Bohn, RN, Ministry Saint Joseph's Hospital Cardiac Care Unit. "It's the only therapy proven to increase brain function and survivability. During therapeutic hypothermia, the body's temperature is lowered to approximately 90 to 93°F. This slows the brain's cellular metabolism protecting it against the damage started by the lack of blood flow and oxygenation when the heart stopped beating."

Each of the two advanced surgery centers for the Marshfield Clinic and Ministry Health Care Heart Team are using therapeutic hypothermia with great success. Ministry Saint Joseph's Hospital in Marshfield is the only hospital in north central Wisconsin equipped with three intravascular cooling devices to provide therapeutic hypothermia in its intensive care units.

Ministry Saint Clare's Hospital in Weston uses an external cooling blanket system to provide therapeutic cooling that goes beyond survival; it's a therapy that helps to improve quality of life after a heart attack.

"The sooner we can get patients to their goal cold temperature, the better," said Bohn. "It takes another 24 hours to re-warm these patients back to a normal temp of 98.6°F. The intensive care team constantly monitors heart rate and vital signs to manage any side effects."

Generally, patients wake up quickly after re-warming takes place; though, it may take 72 hours or more before prognosis and next steps can be determined.

"Most patients suffer from short-term memory loss, which eventually gets better," said Bohn. "Statistically, a small population can be helped through therapeutic hypothermia, but to them, it makes all the difference in the world."

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