Pregnant Woman Saved by Being Put 'On Ice' After Heart Attack


Imagine this awful scenario: a seemingly perfectly healthy 33-year-old woman in her 20th week of pregnancy suddenly goes into cardiac arrest at a church gathering. She receives CPR, and paramedics defibrillate her before rushing her to the emergency room.

Three hours after arriving at the hospital, doctors cool her body to approximately 90 degrees Fahrenheit (in a treatment known as therapeutic hypothermia, used to prevent brain damage). Despite her pregnancy, the woman is kept at a hypothermic temperature for 12 hours out of necessity, during which time "fetal shivering" is observed.

Now, what sort of outcome are you picturing for this poor woman and her baby? Not good, right?

Unbelievably, after a 10-day hospital stay, during which time she was implanted with a cardioverter-defibrillator, the mom-to-be made a full recovery. She went back to work, resumed normal activities, and 19 weeks later she gave birth to a perfectly healthy, full-term baby boy.

Therapeutic hypothermia has been relatively untested on pregnant patients, and was thought to be too risky for the fetus. In this woman's case, however, doctors were forced to make an exception in order to protect her oxygen-starved brain. After her body was rewarmed to a normal temperature, the fetal shivering stopped, and all signs seem to indicate the baby suffered no long term damage as a result of the treatment. Doctors have since evaluated the boy at 1, 2, 3, 6, 12, and 36 months of age -- and he's hit all normal development milestones.

This was obviously a medical miracle for the woman and baby involved, but it's also encouraging news for other pregnant women who might face similar emergency situations. Hypothermia is being heralded as "the single most important advance in resuscitation science in the last 10 years," and studies are currently testing the potential of using cooling to treat stroke victims, or those who have suffered traumatic injury to the brain or spinal cord.

The American Heart Association says there are about 295,000 out-of-hospital cardiac arrests in the U.S. each year. Usually, the prognosis for these patients is bleak at best: of those 295,000, 23.8% will survive long enough to reach a hospital ... and only 7.6% will be discharged alive.

Using hypothermia seems to improve the odds quite a bit, because the cooling process slows all sorts of damage that happens when the oxygen returns to the brain. One study, conducted in 2002, indicated that cooled patients have a 55% chance at recovery.

Since heart attack risk increases during pregnancy, it's good to know that this procedure is becoming more common in emergency rooms, and that early indicators seem to show that it's not necessarily unsafe to use on pregnant women. I'm sure there comes a point in certain medical emergencies during pregnancy where doctors have to make terrible choices -- save the baby? Save the mother? -- but this woman's happy outcome is wonderful news ... not just for her and her son, but for others who may benefit from this lifesaving treatment.

Have you ever heard of therapeutic hypothermia before?

Image via Rosser321/Flickr

complications, pregnancy health


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Stacey. Stacey.

Yes, I also saw something on ID about a man whose heart was stopped and his body put on ice because he had a brain aneurysm. In order for the doctors to fix it, they had to cut off his blood circulation by stopping his heart. He survived.

jalaz77 jalaz77

Yes. Our hospitals here have been doing this for awhile now at a cardiac stand point. They are looking into doing this for Traumatic Brain Injuries as well.

PonyC... PonyChaser

Here's another one for ya. Four years ago, my husband was in a nasty wreck. It was around 30 degrees in the middle of the night, and he lay outside (outside his vehicle) for more than 4 hours before he was found. When help arrived, his temp didn't register on theremometers, whose lowest recordable temp was 85. Doctors warmed him, worked on him, and he made a full recovery. We are told that he has the least of the three options available to him in that situation - he is blind, his optic nerve damaged beyond repair. But the other options were brain damage (from swelling and bleeding, which the cold stopped), and death (which the cold stopped, by suspending his bodily functions).

yeah, I believe in therapeutic hypothermia!

SoJaided SoJaided

My fiancée was in a wreck in 2009 and besides multiple other injuries, he sustained a Traumatic Brain Injury, swelling and fluid on the brain and was in a coma in the Neuro ICU for about 2 weeks. They keep it EXTREMELY COLD in their Neuro ICU specifically for the reason that it's so good for brain injuries. They also kept him undressed and being that he still ran a high fever we constantly had to cover him in ice cold wet towels. He's made a 95% recovery today. Thank God and we're expecting our first baby in January. Miracles happen ;)

nonmember avatar Megan

Pony, what an awesome testimony!

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