Therapeutic hypothermia helping cardiac arrest patients

December 21, 2010

Bill Freeman and Virginia Wallace are counting their blessings. Both suffered cardiac arrest earlier this year.

Bill had signed up for the "Run the Bridge" 10k with his 13-year-old son Jack in November. He was ready for the race.

"I run and exercise regularly 6 days a week and I play racquetball, so I'm in pretty good physical shape," Bill said.

But that day, he lagged behind and when he crossed the finish line he collapsed. His heart stopped.

Thankfully, medics rushed to his aid. They were able to restart his heart with a defibrillator and he was taken to Cooper University Hospital, who also sponsored the race.

Bill's wife didn't see him collapse, but afterwards, the medic approached her.

When she met Bill at the hospital, Dr. Stephen Trzeciak said he was still unconscious and at risk for brain damage so they started therapeutic hypothermia. Using a system of cooling pads, they lowered his temperature to around 93 degrees and kept it there for 24 hours.

"It decreases the inflammation that's going on in the brain after blood flow is restored," Dr. Trzeciak said.

The American Heart Association has recommended therapeutic hypothermia since 2003, but recently many more hospitals have started using it.

Virginia Wallace was taken to Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in Hamilton, New Jersey, after her heart suddenly stopped while she driving in October.

A state trooper revived her with an AED, but like Bill, she was still unconscious.

Staff at Robert Wood Johnson had just recently been trained in therapeutic hypothermia. It was started there and then Virginia was transferred to Penn. She woke up days later with no neurological problems. Her doctors and nurses credit the cooling system.

"It's hard to tell what would have happened for Virginia, but certainly the outcome would not have been quite as good," Elizebth Whetzel, R.N. said.

Bill also woke up days later with no problems.

He's now back to work and looking forward to spending another holiday with his wife and five kids.

Virginia and her family also feel lucky. She says it's reinforced her belief to never take life for granted.

"Make sure you do the things that make you happy. Take care of yourself. Take care of your family," Virginia said.

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