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Can hypothermia save lives in the trauma center?

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 22, 2016

Nicola Twilley reports on a relatively new technique being used in a Baltimore trauma center: freezing trauma victims to give the doctors working on them more time to save their lives.

When this patient loses his pulse, the attending surgeon will, as usual, crack his chest open and clamp the descending aorta. But then, instead of trying to coax the heart back into activity, the surgeon will start pumping the body full of ice-cold saline at a rate of at least a gallon a minute. Within twenty minutes (depending on the size of the patient, the number of wounds, and the amount of blood lost), the patient’s brain temperature, measured using a probe in the ear or nose, will sink to somewhere in the low fifties Fahrenheit.

At this point, the patient, his circulatory system filled with icy salt water, will have no blood, no pulse, and no brain activity. He will remain in this state of suspended animation for up to an hour, while surgeons locate the bullet holes or stab wounds and sew them up. Then, after as much as sixty minutes without a heartbeat or a breath, the patient will be resuscitated.

Brain damage is a risk — as is, you know, dying from hypothermia — but there are many instances of people surviving even after their hearts stop for an hour or two.