After a 33-year-old pregnant woman went into cardiac arrest, doctors resuscitated her and cooled her body to 90 degrees through therapeutic hypothermia. Nineteen weeks later, she gave birth to a healthy baby boy, and according to a recent article published in the Annals of Emergency Medicine, both mother and son are doing fine.
It's been three years since doctors used the treatment on the patient, and after several follow-ups, medical experts have concluded the child has successfully reached all developmental milestones.
The technique used on the woman while she was pregnant "slows brain-cell death and other organ demise that could lead to permanent neurological damage," USA Today explains. Patients are eventually warmed back to normal temperature after 12 to 24 hours.
In a press release about the case, Dr. Naseer Nasser, a cardiologist who cared for the patient at Memorial Hospital in South Bend, Ind., explained the treatment is normally considered "too risky" for the fetus.
"However, without the recently proven benefit of hypothermia for cardiac arrest, mother and child would not have benefited from this lifesaving advance," Nasser stated in the press release. "This report suggests that with prudent clinical judgment, vigilance and a dedicated multi-disciplinary team, therapeutic hypothermia can be offered to pregnant women who survive cardiac arrest."
MedPage Today notes that there are two case reports of pregnant women being treated with therapeutic hypothermia, but this is the only one that resulted in successful delivery of the fetus. Though the treatment did elicit "fetal shivering," it ceased once the woman was warmed back to her normal temperature.
While conducting the cooling treatment on pregnant patients is considered dangerous, certain hospitals in Iowa have been using therapeutic hypothermia to help premature babies or babies born with a condition requiring the treatment, the Gazette reports.
With a cooling blanket, doctors lower the babies' temperatures from the normal 98.6 degrees to 92.3 degrees. According to the paper, the treatment "slows the baby’s metabolism, decreasing the rate of brain cell death caused by lack of oxygen."
Therapeutic hypothermia has been used on cardiac arrest patients in the past, and a 2011 article in the Annals of Neurology suggests the treatment may help "up to two-thirds of them [to] go home with good function," Science Daily reports.
After a patient has been resuscitated, doctors or emergency responders usually cool a patient's body by applying ice or "other coolants," according to the Wall Street Journal. The patient is then put into a drug-induced coma before doctors slowly bring their body temperature back to normal.
From about 2006 to 2009, 140 cardiology patients were treated with the technique, the Wall Street Journal reports. Fifty-two percent of those patients survived, "compared with single digits historically."
Illinois resident and mother Tawana Sample-Harris credits the technique with saving her life.
A few years ago, Sample-Harris went into cardiac arrest shortly after her water broke, USA Today reported in 2010. Her son was delivered via C-section at Rush University Medical Center, as doctors tried to restart her heart. With the new mom in a coma, doctors decided to conduct "therapeutic hypothermia," but the prognosis was bleak.
"Generally nobody wakes up after a 40-minute cardiac arrest," Omar Lateef, director of critical care at Rush, told USA Today.
But much to everyone's surprise, Sample-Harris woke up as if nothing had happened.
The authors of the Annals of Emergency Medicine report say they hope the case will contribute to "literature on the safety of hypothermia in pregnancy," according to the press release.