UPMC Presbyterian Hospital in Pittsburgh is experimenting with a new treatment that sounds like it's straight out of a sci-fi movie. Surgeons are now permitted to put patients arriving with traumatic injury into a state of suspended animation, or what doctors are calling "emergency preservation and resuscitation."
Victims of gunshot or stab wounds, in particular, often arrive at the ER with little time to spare. In fact, roughly 35% of all severe trauma patients die from blood loss while en route to the hospital. This new treatment could give doctors just the amount of time they need to save lives.
It's a rapid cooling technique that involves draining a patient's blood and replacing it with a cold saline solution which cools the body to about 50 degrees and significantly slows cellular activity, "suspending life" in about 15 minutes. Usually, the brain suffers significant damage after five minutes of oxygen deprivation, but this new technique can extend that period by over an hour.
Doctors will have an allotted amount of time to perform the necessary surgeries and repairs before blood is pumped back into the patient's body via a heart-lung bypass machine, restoring circulation and bringing body temperature back to normal.
First tested on pigs back in 2002, this method of "emergency preservation" was a success on the animal patients, which showed no signs of physical or cognitive impairment after treatment. Now, doctors will test the procedure on 10 human patients suffering from trauma and cardiac arrest and compare their results with 10 other trauma patients who do not undergo the treatment. Then, after any necessary refinements are made based on the initial results, 10 more patients will undergo the treatment. This data will then help to determine if the treatment should continue on a larger scale.
In the meantime, the team at UPMC Presbyterian is on call - trained, ready and waiting for the "perfect" patient to come through their ER doors.