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Therapeutic hypothermia for stroke patients

December 21, 2011 12:00:00 AM PST
Local doctors are using an ice-cold therapy to save the lives of stroke patients. Freezing or hypothermia therapy can help the brain and body recover from heart attacks and concussions. Now doctors at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center are using the therapy to put the "ice" on strokes.

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.

From tennis, to tae kwon do, Clifford lives to learn. He was off to kickboxing class when he was hit with the unexpected.

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

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

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 about six hours, preferably four or three hours, we have the chance for a complete salvage," said Dr. Patrick Lyden, a neurologist at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.

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 bloodstream from inside out," said Lyden.

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

Dr. Lyden says that next to clot-busting drugs: "I view hypothermia as the second-biggest breakthrough in our lifetime."

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 that she's done for me," said Clifford.

Dr. Lyden says he has not seen any damage done to any other organs because of the cooling.

Twenty hospitals across the country are currently using hypothermia, but only in patients younger than 80 because there is a risk of pneumonia.