Medical Minute: Cooling Brains

“I was leaving church. I was supposed to teach Sunday school. I went across the street in a crosswalk and never saw a car coming at me. They hit me and threw me. I heard it was quite a ways that I got thrown.”

That day, doctors rushed Kathy Whitledge to the ER. She had severe head injuries.

Marie Lasater, RN, a critical care nurse, says, “She was thrown 360 feet over the car and landed on her head, had a skull fracture. Her brain had a midline shift all the way to one side.”

But six months later, Kathy is back to work at the same ICU unit she recovered in.

Kathy says, “I feel like it was a little miracle, and that’s what everybody tells me.”

Dr. Michael Diringer says trauma patients like Kathy often develop fevers.

“We’ll really see that their overall ability to function takes a hit when they, when their temperature goes up.”

In fact, every one degree increase in temperature causes the brain to work about 10 percent harder. Doctors used to use drugs like aspirin or even ice packs to keep patients cool, but now there’s a better option.

The Cool Gard device delivers chilled saline through a catheter. The saline cools the blood in the body. As blood travels to the brain, temperature drops.

“We can actually dial in what we want the patient’s temperature to be and then maintain it at that steady state.”

Kathy had the cooling device and today has no permanent brain damage.

“I feel so lucky and fortunate.”

And now she can focus on spending time with the one she loves.

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