Hypothermic Treatment May Aid Heart Disease Recovery

ByABC News
July 30, 2003, 3:07 PM

July 31 -- Having your heart stop is a chilling experience, but for no one more so than Doug Bowerman.

Two years ago, Bowerman suffered from cardiac arrest. And while doctors were able to start his heart again, precious minutes had already ticked away without oxygen going to his brain.

Luckily, Bowerman was a candidate for an experimental cardiac arrest therapy where the body temperature is lowered almost 10 degrees. The procedure may have saved him from severe and incapacitating brain damage.

"I think I was very lucky that I was a candidate for that research, and that I didn't have any neurological damage," Bowerman told ABC's Good Morning America.

Dr. James Grotta, the neurologist at the University of Texas-Houston Medical School who treated Bowerman, described the procedure's effectiveness: "The mortality rate [for cardiac arrest] is cut in half and the percentage of patients who completely recover is doubled."

Hypothermia: More Than a Cold Shoulder

Across the nation, doctors are steadily perfecting the method of healing cardiac arrest patients using hypothermia.

The cooling therapy, which lowers a patient's body temperature up to 9 degrees Fahrenheit, has shown remarkable promise in protecting against brain damage after a heart stoppage.

Cardiac arrest victims are generally resuscitated as soon as possible with automatic ventricular defibrillators the same paddles that have been popularized by Hollywood lore.

But problems arise when "the short pause in delivering oxygenated blood to the brain [results in] severe irreversible damage," explains Dr. Richard Stein, spokesperson for the American Heart Association, "such that the patient never regains consciousness."

Stein added that recent studies have suggested that depriving and then suddenly replenishing the brain's oxygen can lead to serious side effects.

But keeping revived patients under wraps of cold blankets and ice packs, that is may help prevent brain damage and promote recovery.