Cardiac Arrest Patients Benefit from Cooling Technology

BENNINGTON — A new computer-controlled cooling system for patients at Southwestern Vermont Medical Center (SVMC) helps prevent brain damage after someone has been resuscitated following a cardiac arrest. The new system, called the Arctic Sun, is the first of its kind in Southern Vermont and the Berkshires.

“The benefits of cooling cardiac arrest patients are well documented,” explained Dr. James Poole, a hospitalist at SVMC and the medical director of the cooling program. “Cooling is recommended by the American Heart Association. The new system allows us to precisely monitor and control the patient’s body temperature, which can’t be done with ice packs or chilled saline.”

When the heart stops, brain and other cells are deprived of normal blood flow and begin to die, releasing a host of chemicals. When the heart is restarted, the surge of these chemicals in the blood sets off a cascade of inflammation throughout the body, especially in the brain where it is particularly harmful.

For patients who come to SVMC after a cardiac arrest, the process of cooling begins in the emergency department with ice packs and chilled saline. Once patients are stabilized, they are placed on the Arctic Sun system and transferred to the Intensive Care Unit. The goal of the therapy is to lower a patient’s body temperature from 98.6 to 91.4 degrees and keep it there for roughly 24 hours. The computer-controlled system closely monitors the patient’s temperature and keeps it within one degree of the goal.

The machine draws temperature-controlled water through specially designed pads that are placed on a patient’s chest and thighs. The device automatically adjusts the temperature of the water to meet the temperature goal. It is completely non-invasive, and can lower body temperature by about two degrees per hour. It also does not require access to a blood vessel and does not risk freezing the skin as can happen with ice packs or devices that cool the blood directly.

“After a 24-hour period of cooling, we begin to return the patient’s body to a normal temperature,” Dr. Poole explained. “During this process, it’s important that we do not warm someone up too quickly. It’s also important that the body temperature is not allowed to exceed normal. So, having a computer-controlled system is extremely useful for both goals. We have a very sophisticated, intense protocol for using this new technology.”

For the present, the new device is only being used to treat cardiac arrest patients. However, medical research indicates that cooling patients with strokes, high fevers, and even trauma may be beneficial.

“The medical literature is very clear on the benefits of cooling for patients following a cardiac arrest,” Dr. Poole explained. “Research into its ability to treat other conditions is ongoing. At SVMC, we will continue to monitor this research and national guidelines as we determine whether this tool can benefit other patients, too.”

The Arctic Sun is produced by Medivance, Inc. of Louisville, Colo. Southwestern Vermont Medical Center is Vermont first Magnet Hospital for Nursing Excellence. SVMC is part of Southwestern Vermont Health Care, an integrated health system providing care for patients in Bennington and Windham Counties in Vermont, Rensselaer and Washington Counties in New York, and Berkshire County in Massachusetts. SVHC includes the VNA & Hospice of SVHC, the Centers for Living & Rehabilitation, and the SVMC Northshire and Deerfield Valley Campuses.