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Critically buried avalanche victims can develop severe hypothermia in less than 60 min.

BACKGROUND: A major challenge in the management of avalanche victims in cardiac arrest is differentiating hypothermic from non-hypothermic cardiac arrest, as management and prognosis differ. Duration of burial with a cutoff of 60 min is currently recommended by the resuscitation guidelines as a parameter to aid in this differentiation However, the fastest cooling rate under the snow reported so far is 9.4 °C per hour, suggesting that it would take 45 min to cool below 30 °C, which is the temperature threshold below which a hypothermic cardiac arrest can occur.

CASE PRESENTATION: We describe a case with a cooling rate of 14 °C per hour, assessed on site with an oesophageal temperature probe. This is by far the most rapid cooling rate after critical avalanche burial reported in the literature and further challenges the recommended 60 min threshold for triage decisions. The patient was transported under continuous mechanical CPR to an ECLS facility and rewarmed with VA-ECMO, although his HOPE score was 3% only. After three days he developed brain death and became an organ donor.

CONCLUSIONS: With this case we would like to underline three important aspects: first, whenever possible, core body temperature should be used instead of burial duration to make triage decisions. Second, the HOPE score, which is not well validated for avalanche victims, had a good discriminatory ability in our case. Third, although extracorporeal rewarming was futile for the patient, he donated his organs. Thus, even if the probability of survival of a hypothermic avalanche patient is low based on the HOPE score, ECLS should not be withheld by default and the possibility of organ donation should be considered.

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