Healthbeat Report: The Big Chill

August 13, 2009 At Alexian Brothers Medical Center, doctors there faced a desperate situation and decided to take a chance on the cool therapy to help bring back a dying teenager.

Sixteen-year-old Matt Corcione is getting use to the fact people can't believe he's alive.

"It's hard to believe because who comes back from the dead," said Matt.

"He had no pulse, eyes were fixed and dilated He was dead," said Dr. Ken Barrick, ER Physician, Alexian Brothers Medical Center.

It happened April 5 of this year. Matt's lifeless body was rushed to Alexian Brothers Medical Center in Elk Grove Village.

Matt says he stayed the night at a friend's house after a party. Then, according to doctors, the next day he didn't wake up. His heart had stopped. His family learned Matt had overdosed on a prescription narcotic.

"Experimenting with pills they didn't know what they were doing," said mother Lisa Karcher.

No ones really sure how long Matt was without a heartbeat. When paramedics arrived they did CPR but got no response. At the hospital, ER physicians pulled out all the stops and finally managed to get a faint heartbeat.

"He had no discernible cardiac activity for 43 minutes which is just unheard of. Even with good CPR 5-10-15 minutes is great. But 43 minutes unheard of," said Dr. Barrick.

Matt's brain went a long time without oxygen. There was the concern of brain damage and he was still very unstable. Still, no one wanted to give up and the decision was made to chill Matt out.

"We decided to implement hypothermia or body cooling as a sort of 'Hail Mary' pass to preserve any neurological function which might remain," said Dr. Guy Dugan, Intensivist, Alexian Brothers Medical Center.

It's an odd sounding therapy that's slowly catching on in some hospitals.

Basically, with the help of a machine a patient's body tempered is lowered. Research shows cooling patients following cardiac arrest or sudden loss of heart function can help reduce brain damage.

No ones really sure why bringing the body's temperature down to about 91 degrees Fahrenheit helps. But it's suspected chilling the brain helps prevent neurological damage.

Using external pads controlled by a machine, Matt's body temperature was lowered for about 12 hours. And he seemed to do well but it would be a while before doctors could tell if it worked. Matt still had many other issues.

"He had kidney failure, he had liver failure, pancreatitis muscle necrosis, bleeding problems," Dr. Dugan.

Each problem was dealt with and after weeks in the hospital. Matt pulled through.

The hospital credits it's state of the art critical care medicine and the combined effort of many practitioners for Matt's recovery. But the cooling therapy is thought to be the main reason this teen is walking and talking today.

"Without the therapeutic hypothermia I don't know what we would have been left with but it clearly would not have been a fully functioning recovered young man," said Patty Gessner, RN, ACNP nurse practitioner, Alexian Brothers Medical Center.

Matt's family and doctors say there are no signs of brain damage. The teen will start his junior year of high school this fall.

"I just always knew when he woke up he was going to be fine," said Karcher.

"There's nothing I can't do I can do everything I was able to do," said Matt. "I'll never forget this never. I think it's changed my attitude a lot."

Hypothermia therapy does carry risks and some doctors are not yet convinced it's a procedure that's proven but research is ongoing.

Along with the cooling therapy, doctors at Alexian Brothers think part of the reason matt fared so well was because CPR done by paramedics. While not successful in restating his heart, helped play a role in preserving his brain function.

Alexian Brothers Medical Center
800 Beisterfield Rd.
Elk Grove Village, Il. 60007

American Heart Association
Cooling therapy

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