A super cool life-saver

An Action News Special Report
January 27, 2008 10:12:32 AM PST
One of the hottest advances in medicine is cold - chilling a person's body to slow down damage from injuries

It was the injury that could have paralyzed Kevin Everett forever. His spinal cord was damaged during a tackle that went wrong.

3 months later, Everett was walking again - in part, because a doctor lowered his body temperature right after the injury.

47-year-old Mark Irwing was smiling and healthy on Christmas Day.

2 days later, he suffered the first of several massive hemorrhages in his digestive tract.

Toxins built up, causing Mark's brain to swell, and cut off its own blood supply.

By last Tuesday, Mark was comatose, with little chance to survive.

His wife, Debbie tearfully told Action News, " We actually said goodbye, and ... Um, we were making all our arrangements."

Dr. Paul Marik, of Jefferson University Hospital, decided to try one last treatment - cooling Mark down.

He was given a cold saline IV, and wrapped in this 3 part cooling suit.

A vest for his torso....

A blanket for his legs....

And a cap that wrapped around his head.... all hooked up to a pump that circulated water.

Gradually Mark's body temperature came down to 32 degrees Celsius - 94 degrees Fahrenheit.

Dr. Marik says, "As you cool the brain, it decreases the amount of oxygen the brain requires, so you are less likely for the brain cells to die."

Mark was also put on a special type of dialysis, to clear the toxins that caused the brain swelling.

A day later, he was gradually warmed, but Mark was still comatose. Neither the Jefferson medical team, nor his wife knew if he'd wake up. His children, and young athletes he'd coached on several teams posted hand-written messages on his hospital room wall, with hopes he'd wake up.

Dr. Marik says, "Miraculously on the weekend, he started waking up and responding."

His wife says, "Yesterday was the first time he was able to mouth "I Love You."

Mark faces a tough recovery, but his wife Debbie still calls him her "miracle man."

The same principle is also being used in this nursery at Jefferson, to help babies deprived of oxygen during birth.

That used to mean permanent, and often devastating brain damage.

Dr. Susan Adeniyi-Jones, a neonatologist says, "80 to 100 per cent of babies would have cerebral palsy, developmental delay."

But for nearly 5 years, Dr. Susan Adeniyi-Jones and her team have used CoolCap, a 3-layer bonnet system, which surrounds a baby's tiny head with cool water.

Dr. Jones says CoolCap has been a big success, "You decrease the number of babies who end up with long-term damage."

In fact, many babies expected to have learning delays are right on target.

A beaming Dr. Jones says, "It really is wonderful."