Putting strokes on ice

December 22, 2011 3:00:48 PM PST
Hypothermia can be deadly. Getting too cold can cause your body to shut down. It's that same theory doctors are now using to help save the lives of stroke patients.

Lena and Clifford Hooe began their life together with a kick-kick-turn and slide. It's been 20 years, and they've never stopped dancing.

"He's energetic, he's like a little boy," Lena said.

From tennis to Tae Kwan Do, Clifford lives to learn. He was off to kick boxing class when he was hit with the unexpected.

"He had fallen and he said I can't get up," Lena said.

"Oh no, not me. Please," Clifford recalled thinking.

Doctors treated this first stroke with drugs. Clifford recovered completely, but then a second stroke.

"It can't be happening again. It just can't," Lena said.

Clifford was paralyzed on his left side. Doctors at Cedars Sinai used hypothermia to cool his body, stopping inflammation and slowing his metabolism, allowing his brain time to rest.

"If we begin to cool them within six hours, we have the chance for a complete salvage," Patrick D. Lyden, MD Chair, Department of Neurology at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, said.

An ice cold device sits in the body's largest vein and cools the blood directly.

"We put a catheter inside the body and cool the blood stream from inside out," Dr. Lyden explained.

The body's cooled to 33 degrees for 24 hours. Then it's slowly brought back to normal temperature.

"I view hypothermia as the second biggest breakthrough of our lifetime (next to clot-busting drugs)," he said.

Although this stroke slowed Clifford down, without the hypothermia treatment things could have been much worse. He's thankful for his doctors and his dancing partner.

"I want to hold my wife tight and give her a big kiss for all she's done for me," he said.

Twenty hospitals across the country are currently using hypothermia, but only in patients under 80 years old because there is a risk of pneumonia. Dr. Lyden says he has not seen any damage done to any other organs because of the cooling.

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