Saving the lives of some heart attack victims by cooling their bodies sounds like the theme of a sci-fi novel or movie. It conjures up visions of some sort of oversized refrigerator-computer, complete with bells, whistles, blinking lights and doctors and nurses tending patients in snowsuits.


But the concept is not based on fiction. It comes from solid medical research and testing. And no, the equipment used in this lifesaving technique isn’t some oversized refrigerator-computer combo.


“It (Arctic Sun Temperature Management System) is not flashy. It looks kind of like a bear hugger. When it is used and the body is cooled for 24 hours and then slowly warned up, good things happen,” said Dr. Kevin Reed, medical director of the Intensive Care Unit at Mercy Memorial Health Center.


Saving the lives of some heart attack victims by cooling their bodies sounds like the theme of a sci-fi novel or movie. It conjures up visions of some sort of oversized refrigerator-computer, complete with bells, whistles, blinking lights and doctors and nurses tending patients in snowsuits.

 

But the concept is not based on fiction. It comes from solid medical research and testing. And no, the equipment used in this lifesaving technique isn’t some oversized refrigerator-computer combo.

 

“It (Arctic Sun Temperature Management System) is not flashy. It looks kind of like a bear hugger. When it is used and the body is cooled for 24 hours and then slowly warned up, good things happen,” said Dr. Kevin Reed, medical director of the Intensive Care Unit at Mercy Memorial Health Center.

 

Reed’s interest was sparked by landmark studies published in the New England Journal of Medicine indicating the procedure can significantly improve the outcome of some heart attack patients.

 

“Even the American Heart Association says this is the thing to do,” he said. “But overall all I don’t think it has caught on because it’s not fun or sexy and it requires an ICU staff who can manage such cases. I’m board-certified in intensive care medicine. My specialty has been in focusing on this for a couple of years and I felt we should bring this to southern Oklahoma if we could afford it”

 

Reed became so certain body cooling could save local lives that a few months ago, he and an ICU team performed the technique manually.

 

“Using much older equipment and expending a considerable amount of labor, a Mercy ICU team was able to effectively cool the patient. After 24 hours the patient awoke with minimal neurologic deficits and has since left MMHC for a definitive bypass surgery in Oklahoma City,” Reed wrote to hospital officials in a bid for the Arctic Sun Temperature Management System.

 

MMHC officials listened and responded by obtaining the equipment.

 

Which patients are candidates for body cooling or hypothermia treatment?

 

“A person who suffered heart arrest and was successfully resuscitated — their heart started, but they did not regain consciousness when the heart started,” Reed said. “When that happens the brain might not recover because when the heart stops, blood flow to the brain stops and brain cells may start signaling their own death. Statistics show 80 to 90 percent of those patients die or have horrible neurological deficits.”

 

How does body cooling work?

 

“It is strictly a neurological procedure. Cooling slows the metabolism (allowing the brain time to recuperate). After 24 hours the patient’s body temperature is slowly — over a period of six to eight hours — returned to normal and their outcome is improved 40 to 60 percent,” Reed said.

 

If a patient is a candidate for body cooling, the procedure starts when medics first arrive on the scene of the heart attack and continues through the emergency room and on to ICU.

 

Patients are given medication to sedate them throughout the procedure. Additional medication is administered to temporarily paralyze the patient.

 

“The patient is medically paralyzed to prevent them from shivering. When a person gets cold the body shivers to warm itself and we don’t want that to happen,” Reed said.

 

Patients don’t remember the procedure, which the doctor described as “pretty simple” and “not flashy.”

 

Over the past few weeks  Southern Oklahoma Ambulance Service medics, MMHC emergency room personnel and ICU staff have undergone extensive training on carrying out the procedure.

 

“Mercy has put a lot of energy into building a state-of-the-art ICU and having well-trained staff. We’re doing it as well as any ICU in a big city. MMHC is the first medical facility in southern Oklahoma to offer body cooling. I believe with the Arctic Sun we could save two to three lives a month,” Reed said.