Ice-Cold Innovations in Miami

ABC talks to one of the doctors behind cooling therapy used on Kevin Everett.

ByABC News
September 14, 2007, 11:05 AM

Sept. 17, 2007 — -- Against all odds, Buffalo Bills' tight end Kevin Everett, who sustained a disastrous spinal injury during the Bills' season opener Sept. 9, has been exhibiting significant signs of improvement this week.

Everett's progress is stunning, coming after the announcement from the team's orthopaedic surgeon, Dr. Andrew Cappuccino, that it was unlikely Everett would ever walk again. But in the days after this grim, initial prognosis, Everett's condition began to improve. He is now conscious and has regained a small degree of movement in his ankles, legs and arms.

After the incident, Everett was rushed to Buffalo's Millard Fillmore Hospital. There his doctors were quick to begin a series of treatments to preclude the onset of permanent paralysis. Everett's potentially life-threatening injury -- a violently displaced vertebra was placing pressure upon his spinal cord -- was particularly time-sensitive as injuries to the spine, if not immediately treated, can lead to irrevocable damage.

"What normally happens [in spinal cord injury] is over the next hours and days, the spinal cord itself undergoes massive self-destruction from swelling, from more hemorrhaging, from chemicals that sort of eat up the spinal cord once the damage is started," Dr. Barth Green, co-founder of the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis, told The Associated Press.

To combat this, doctors quickly worked to relieve the pressure on Everett's spinal cord, administering an injection of the steroid methylprednisolone as well as an experimental -- and controversial -- treatment known as mild cooling.

Mild cooling involves an infusion of ice-cold saline into the body to delicately induce a state of hypothermia.

Dr. Dalton Dietrich is scientific director at the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis and spoke to ABC News about the mild hypothermia treatment, as well as the Miami Project's mission and the current state of spinal cord injury therapies in general.

Hypothermia as a treatment for SCI and ischemia -- any type of blockage of the blood supply -- has been used since the 1960s. But often those treatments involved an extreme instance of hypothermia and subsequently put patients at risk for a variety of complications, including infection.