December 11, 2012

Induced hypothermia saving lives at CVPH


---- — PLATTSBURGH – An innovative new procedure being offered at CVPH Medical Center has already earned big dividends: It has saved at least a few people’s lives.

Therapeutic induced hypothermia is a process by which a person’s body temperature is lowered following cardiac arrest to help prevent irreparable and potentially fatal damage to brain cells.


“There is a lot of evidence-based research out there that identifies this as a very beneficial therapeutic practice,” said Colleen Bell, one of four registered nurses from the CVPH Intensive Care Unit who has worked on the initiative to bring the procedure to the Medical Center.

Intensive Care registered nurses Donna Brault, Carlyn Haag and Cathy Patnode have also been involved in the initiative.

The four nurses recently presented an update on therapeutic induced hypothermia at a recent health-care forum hosted by the University of Vermont and Fletcher Allen Health Care that attracted much attention for other heath-care facilities.


Here’s how the technique works:

When people suffer cardiac arrest — the heart stops beating — a loved one, community member or emergency personnel starts CPR immediately to continue moving blood through the heart and to the brain and other organs.

As patients are rushed to the hospital, emergency personnel can initiate induced hypothermia by apply ice packs to certain parts of the body as other life-saving techniques continue.

As patients move from the Emergency Department to Intensive Care, staff members place them in a specialized blanket that lowers the body temperature to between 90 and 93 degrees, where it will remain for 24 hours.

“It definitely involves a team approach,” said Kathleen Carey, clinical nurse specialist from Intensive Care. “Staff from several departments have to work together to make this an acceptable protocol.”


When the blood supply to the brain is stopped during cardiac arrest, brain cells are damaged by the lack of oxygen. Brain cells also tend to swell in response to the condition, and induced hypothermia helps reduce that swelling.

“Only about 6 percent of hospital codes (patients who have suffered cardiac arrest) survive,” Brault noted, adding that many of those who do survive also suffer severe brain damage that impacts their quality of life.

“With this technique, we’ve had people up walking and talking in a short time,” she added. “It has proven very successful.”


The hospital’s Palliative Care Unit also plays a role in providing support to patient families, who may be startled to view their loved one in an induced hypothermia.

“The patient is cold to the touch,” Bell said. “That can be very distressing to family members who have already been through such a traumatic experience.”


The staff also stresses the need for early response to people suffering from cardiac arrest.

“The earlier we can start the life-saving process, the more chance we have for success,” Brault said.

If people can begin CPR even before emergency personnel arrive, the victim’s odds become much better, she added.

Induced hypothermia is just one of several medical concepts on display in the CVPH lobby this week as part of the fifth-annual CVPH Clinical Excellence Poster Presentation, organized by the hospital’s clinical nurses.

“It’s a representation of what we all do to improve clinical performance and clinical safety,” Carey said.

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