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Christa Newman

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Innovative Cooling Procedure ‘A Miracle’ for Cardiac Patient

Christa Newman had no idea she had been born with a rare heart condition until she woke up in Memorial Medical Center’s Intensive Care Unit two days after suffering sudden cardiac arrest on Sept. 28, 2009.

On that day, the then-33-year-old special education attendant at Fairview Elementary School in Springfield had just returned to the classroom after grabbing lunch when she began to feel ill.

"I never made it out of the classroom," she said. "I was two to three steps from my desk and collapsed."

A series of lifesaving events, including a groundbreaking technological procedure that helps preserve brain function for cardiac patients like Christa, helped play a role in her survival and recovery.

Within an hour of being resuscitated at Memorial Medical Center’s Emergency Department, an unconscious Christa was rushed to the ICU to undergo a process called Therapeutic Hypothermia (TH), a procedure that has been used at Memorial since May 2009 and involves strategically cooling the body down by wrapping a patient’s trunk and extremities with cooling pads. Cool water circulates through the pads to bring the patient’s temperature down to a range of 89.6 to 93.2 degrees Fahrenheit. The process takes about two to four hours. Memorial was among the first hospitals in downstate Illinois to begin using the procedure.

Theresa Jones, RN, a nurse on Memorial’s 7C ICU unit who helped initiate and develop MMC’s Therapeutic Hypothermia protocols with fellow ICU nurse Linda Yusko, RN, said experts believe this cooling process does several things to aid a patient: It is hypothesized that TH slows the inflammatory response following a cardiac arrest, as well as a host of other cellular reactions, so there’s less damage to brain cells. And it also slows the brain’s metabolism, which aids in recovery.

This is the first time technology has been available to help save brain function, although the idea itself isn’t new.

"It’s something we’re finally able to do because we have the technology," Jones said. "We have the technology, the knowledge and the research to support it now."

The American Heart Association recommends that clinicians try TH on any patient who has been successfully resuscitated from cardiac arrest with a particular heart rhythm — ventricular tachycardia or ventricular fibrillation — within an hour of resuscitation. However, MMC includes all patients with cardiac arrest as potential candidates for the procedure.

Jones, who has been a nurse for nearly 30 years, said she’s "fascinated" by the procedure and reads everything she can on it.

"It’s phenomenal," she said. "Until the technology was available to do this, we really didn’t have anything to resuscitate the brain. Our ability to offer this service to the community is really what nursing is all about. And to allow evidence-based practices by staff nurses to evolve into a full-fledged program really says something about Memorial. "

After undergoing open heart surgery to repair the defect to her right coronary artery, Christa returned home Oct. 12, 2009, and went back to work after Thanksgiving with a new lease on life. She began eating healthier and enrolled in a master’s program at the University of Illinois at Springfield; she expects to earn her degree in human services in May 2012 and hopes to make a career out of serving children and families.

She said she’s grateful to have benefited from the Therapeutic Hypothermia procedure at Memorial.

"I’m happy the technology was there, and that I was able to come out alive," she said. "It’s a life saver. I’m a walking testimony, and a miracle."

Read about more innovative technology procedures at Memorial Medical Center by visiting Memorial Heart & Vascular Services.



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