[Severe accidental hypothermia with cardiopulmonary arrest: prolonged resuscitation without extracorporeal circulation]

E Roggero, H Stricker, P Biegger
Schweizerische Medizinische Wochenschrift 1992 February 1, 122 (5): 161-4
We describe a case of severe hypothermia in a 32-year-old patient who fell into a crevasse. Three hours later he was rescued and flown to a district hospital. On arrival he was apparently dead, with cadaveric skin, dilated and fixed pupils, pulseless and in respiratory arrest. His rectal temperature was 26 degrees C. On the ECG monitor there was first ventricular fibrillation, then, after several unsuccessful attempts at defibrillation, the heart became asystolic. Cardiopulmonary resuscitation was begun with orotracheal intubation and external cardiac compression, which eventually lasted 4 hours and continuously required a team of 6 persons. Only at a temperature of 32.5 degrees C could the patient be defibrillated with success. In the absence of extracorporeal circulation (ECC) the victim was rewarmed by warm-air breathing and by instillation of warm saline in peritoneum, stomach and bladder. In this way the rewarming velocity was 1.8 degrees C/hour. The postacute course was characterized by severe rhabdomyolysis (CK of 100,000 U/L) with non-oliguric renal failure, which necessitated several sessions of hemodialysis. Four months later the asymptomatic patient returned to work. Our case shows that a severely hypothermic patient can successfully be treated in a primary hospital not equipped with an ECC, provided that there is a sufficiently large team. Further, uninterrupted external cardiac compression guarantees efficient circulation even over several hours. Electric defibrillation in a hypothermic patient is ineffective unless normal body temperature has been reached. Lastly, every effort to continue resuscitation must be made in the still hypothermic patient whose absence of clinical response may obscure the real possibility of complete recovery.


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