Story: How Medically Induced Hypothermia Helped Violet Recover from Cardiac Arrest

Senior couple dancing
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Violet and Bill Segrest love to dance. They started ballroom dancing in their 50s, and even participated in competitions. Their favorite is the waltz.

But there was a time the couple wasn't sure of ever dancing again.

In the middle of the night in June 2013, Violet, then 80, awoke suddenly. She felt very low on energy and a bit nauseated. Something was clearly not right.

Bill called 911, and an ambulance rushed Violet to the AdventHealth Altamonte Springs emergency room.

We rushed her to the Cardiac Catheterization Lab, says Nipun Arora, MD, Cardiologist. That's when we found out her arteries were OK. She was having a cardiac arrhythmia arrest.

In other words, when the heart stops due to a cardiac arrest, blood flow stops to the body and the brain and the patient is technically dead. The patient's blood cannot circulate properly, which can lead to brain damage. Even after resuscitating the body, brain damage is very common. To help prevent this, doctors implement the Code Cool protocol, where we keep the body temperature a little lower, Dr. Arora explains. In turn, this slows the patient's system down and helps protect the brain.

Taking Immediate Action
Violet's doctors quickly implemented the Code Cool protocol, Dr. Arora says.

The innovative treatment is performed with Medivance's Arctic Sun, a temperature-management machine that uses water-filled pads attached to the skin to bring the body temperature low enough to induce mild hypothermia. In some cases, this procedure can improve the recovery process for patients like Violet and for those who have suffered a heart attack, a stroke or other traumatic injury.

For Violet, we did internal cooling and external cooling, says Dr. Arora. With external cooling, you have a cooling blanket to get the body temperature down. With internal cooling, we give the patient saline to cool them down.

The hope is that treating patients this way slows the system down and helps protect the brain from permanent damage.

Waiting and Hoping
Days passed, and Violet was still unconscious. The clinical team knew it was possible she might never wake up. And if she did come out of it, we didn't know if she would have a brain injury, says Dr. Arora.

Though they prepared Violet's family for these scenarios, no one was ready to give up the whole team was rooting for her.

In particular, one nurse in the CVICU (cardiovascular intensive care unit) comforted the family, telling them he'd worked in the ICU for many years and seen a lot of cases. He had a good feeling about Violet and thought she would come out of the Code Cool state.

The nurses also got creative. They played music to help stimulate Violet's brain. They even recorded her 3-year-old great-granddaughter singing the words Wakey, wakey, Grannie.

That did the trick. Amazingly, Violet woke up and suffered no brain damage.

We were pleasantly surprised, Dr. Arora says. A lot of times, people don't survive this; she's really lucky.

A New Calm
Violet feels peaceful and that it was God's timing all the way through. She moved from CVICU to the cardiac floor at AdventHealth Orlando to begin therapy with a walker. Overall, she was in the hospital for nearly a month.

During that time, Violet says she was overwhelmed by the care she received from the nurses and adds she could not have asked for any more compassion or quality care. Violet feels God instilled His gifts in all her physicians and nurses, and even the housekeepers who cleaned her room.

Everyone was just exceptional, she says. These days, Violet is feeling much better. She has diabetes and is tracking it more carefully now, and she is very active at her church and spends as much time as possible with her grandchildren. Bill and Violet celebrated their 61st wedding anniversary in June 2014.

To sum up this life-changing experience, Violet says she went from a cooling heart to an open heart.

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