An alert student brought to my attention an article about new approaches the medical community is taking to death and resuscitation. Traditionally, we have emphasized the need to provide immediate treatment to those whose hearts have stopped. However, by doing so, we may be making matters worse.

It appears that the muscle cells of the heart do not immediately begin to die when their supply of oxygen ceases. Instead, cells die when resuscitation efforts restart the supply of oxygen. Apoptosis mechanisms appear to be triggered by the restart.

When heart-lung bypass machines, used during open heart surgery, were used to maintain the flow of nutrients and oxygen to the brain and other organs until the heart could safely be restarted, 80% of cardiac arrest patients survived. Using traditional methods to treat cardiac arrest saves about 15% of similar patients. 

We have known for a long time that people who have “near-drowning” experiences in freezing water can be resuscitated after far more time than people in warm water. This cooling process is now being used to slow down destructive processes of restarting the heart after a cardiac arrest. The most effective means of cooling appears to be the use of an “ice slurry,” a process borrowed from technology used to cool entire buildings. 

 

 

 

INTERNAL ICE SLURRY — An ice slurry fills the lungs and, if necessary, the area surrounding the carotid arteries. The blood passing through these “heat exchangers” is rapidly cooled. Chest compressions send the cooled blood to the brain.

 

 

 

 

Dr. Lance Becker of UPenn is a strong advocate of these research efforts. You can see a video of Dr. Becker describing the process here.