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Deep freeze helps brain recover after stroke

December 2, 2010 12:00:00 AM PST
Stroke is the third leading cause of death in United States, right behind heart disease and cancer. About 800,000 people will suffer a stroke this year. Immediate treatment is the key to saving your brain. Every minute that ticks by without treatment means brain cells are at risk. Blood thinning medications like TPA get the blood flowing again. But now doctors are finding a little brain freeze helps as well.

As a certified registered nurse anesthetist, Erwin Velbis has seen pain every day on the job for 26 years. But recently he lived that pain.

"It was probably the worst headache I've ever had," said Velbis.

Three days of head-splitting pain.

"As soon as I got up, I just fell to the floor. I could not feel my right side," said Velbis.

He was having a stroke. He managed to drag himself downstairs to his car, and in a daze, drove to the hospital.

"So I just prayed to God, get me there, get me home," said Velbis.

Dr. Michael Rodricks, a critical care physician at Florida Hospital, is part of the team that worked on Velbis. First they put a stent in to get the blood flowing, but then came a dangerous fever.

"His body was 102, 103 degrees, so basically his brain was cooking," said Rodricks.

Doctors used a new procedure for stroke called normothermia. They use cooling gel pads to reset the patient's internal thermostat to the right temperature, 98.6. It saved Velbis' brain and his life.

"Without a doubt I think advanced fever control and temperature modulation is the wave of the future," said Rodricks.

"I was going to be drooling on a bib in a wheelchair for the rest of my life," said Velbis.

But instead, he's re-focusing his priorities.

"The goal now for me is to help others, support those people that are surviving and are struggling themselves to get back on track," said Velbis.

Dangerous fevers hit about 50 percent of stroke patients. Dr. Rodricks says the first 24 to 48 hours are critical to control the body temperature and minimize any more damage to the brain.


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