It’s long been known that cooling a body down can help slow brain injury. And as part of an ongoing pilot program, New York City paramedics are now using a new treatment, based on the cooling phenomenon, to prevent cardiac arrest patients from sustaining brain damage.
The new cooling therapy, called therapeutic hypothermia, entails decreasing a patient’s body temperature to slow down the brain’s need for oxygen — and therefore avoid damage to brain cells, according to The New York Times. The aim is to bring a body’s temperature down by six degrees for 24 hours.
New York City is believed to be the first major city to be using hypothermic therapy out in the field on cardiac arrest patients. Other cities are using the new therapy after a patient is resuscitated, once he or she has a pulse.
Roughly 20 New York City hospitals pioneered using therapeutic hypothermia in January 2009, and now 43 of the 50 hospitals in the Big Apple’s 911 emergency system are employing it as part of a three-year pilot project.
In the second phase of the pilot program, paramedics in one-third of the city’s ambulances are now being trained to use the cooling therapy, which employs everything from injections of cool saline solution to cold packs, to cool down patients.
So far roughly 2,600 cardiac patients were taken to city hospitals as potential recipients of the new treatment. Their survival rates increased 20 percent this year versus 2008, an improvement that officials credit to the new therapy, according to The Times.
New York City paramedics have roughly 15,000 calls a year for people with heart attack symptoms, and half of thoese end in cardiac arrest, The Times reported.