Health Check: Code Chill Saves Heart Patients

Some of the temperatures we've experienced this week have been dangerously cold. But doctors at the Fremont Area Medical Center say "cold" isn't always a bad thing.

They're using a unique form of hypothermia to actually change and save some heart patients' lives. It's a procedure they call Code Chill and it's the topic of February's Health Check Report.

When a patient goes into cardiac arrest, the heart suddenly stops. Blood flow to the brain is cut off. Time is critical.

Fremont Area Medical Center Cardiologist George Sojka said, "If they don't restore any kind of circulation in their brain within three minutes, they suffer permanent brain damage."

Clinical Nurse Specialist Rich Pearson showed us a machine that he said offers hope. It's key in a process called Therapeutic Hypothermia or Code Chill.

"They discovered by cooling the body down, mainly the brain down, it stops that process of damaging that occurs during that first few hours," said Pearson.

The cooling process begins with two cold bags of IV fluids, then ice packs are placed all along the patients arms and legs. They also use cooling wraps.

"You'd have the patient lay on that, fold it over and put it around the like a vest and then this fills with water and keeps them cold," explained Pearson.

Cold water from this machine cools the patient's body temperature down to 33-degrees Celsius, 90-degrees Fahrenheit. The patient, who is usually in a deep coma during treatment, stays at that temperature for 24 hours and is monitored closely. Eventually they're warmed up and wake up. It can take up to three days to see if works.

Pearson said, "It increases their survival, the good survival that is their neurological outcome, from about 40% to 60%."

The results can be dramatic

Dr. Sojka said, "I've seen people who I've never expected to walk out of there, walk away - back to their jobs and family. So it's really heartening to see that."

Turning a cardiac crisis into a chilling comeback.

Fifty percent of heart attack patients have a cardiac arrest but not every heart patient is a candidate for this kind of treatment. In fact, only the sickest qualify. These are usually patients who had to be resuscitated.

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