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Cool treatment saves lives

By Erika Pedroza | Published Wednesday, February 1, 2012

HANDFUL OF SUPPORT - With the help of her family, including daughter Tammie Avara of Bowie (hand on left), Alice Beasley has survived and continues to thrive after two cardiac arrests. She has another daughter, Pam Foti of Shawnee, Okla., and son Rodney McGee of Bowie. Messenger photo by Erika Pedroza

Cats are said to have nine lives for their ability to defy death in threatening situations.

After surviving two cardiac arrests and withstanding a lengthy list of medical ailments, Alice Beasley, 65, of Bowie mirrors the relentless traits of the feline species.

Since her second cardiac arrest, where she underwent a therapeutic hypothermia procedure at Wise Regional Health System in Decatur, Beasley has not only been surviving, but thriving in her “third life.”

“Overall, I’ve felt better since I came out of the hospital after the induced hypothermia,” she said. “It’s a great service to offer. I’m here because of it. I can’t remember a whole lot, but I’m here.”

THE LUCK OF A LADYBUG

TWO-TIME SURVIVOR - In addition to surviving two cardiac arrests, Alice Beasley, 65, of Bowie deals with emphysema, diabetes, hernias, high blood pressure and a list of about a dozen allergies listed in a medical alert bracelet. Messenger photo by Erika Pedroza

Despite the misfortune of going into cardiac arrest twice within four years, the incidents happened in the best possible place.

Both times Beasley was at the clinic, Wise County Medical and Surgical, in Decatur. Both times she was treated within minutes of falling unconscious. Both times she survived.

“Thank God I was at the clinic,” she said. “If I had been at home, they would have had to call an ambulance to come all the way out here and then transferred me to Decatur. It’s truly a God thing. Sometimes I wonder why, but I know it’s not for me to question. He has a plan.”

The first time her heart stopped was in December, and it was due to an allergic reaction to an injection for an infection.

“I had taken each antibiotic before,” she said. “But the combination was almost lethal. As I walked out, my lips started to tingle.”

Beasley walked out of the examining room and to the front desk to say bye to her daughter, Tammie Avara, who then worked at the clinic.

“I told her about the tingling, and she told me to go back to have that checked out,” Beasley said.

Avara recalls the nurse running to the front to tell her that her mother had passed out and was turning blue.

“A nurse practitioner started CPR, breaking her ribs, which is what you’re supposed to do,” Avara said. “EMS arrived and transported her to the hospital, where she was kept for a few days and released.”

Almost three years later, April 3, 2011, Beasley visited the same clinic for a swollen ear.

She walked in, signed in and as soon as she sat in her chair, she fell unconscious, going into ventricular fibrillation.

“I was talking one second and out the next,” Beasley said. “That day is wiped out of my memory, but my sister (Marian Thomas of Bowie) was with me. I know what I know because of what she told me. But basically, I died at the clinic; my heart stopped beating for eight minutes. There were no symptoms whatsoever.”

Nurses began CPR and called 911. It just so happened the ambulance was stopped at the red light nearest the clinic, so they arrived in seconds, according to Avara.

“They used the defibrillator two or three times to get her heart to start beating again,” Avara said. “During the short ambulance ride across the street to Wise Regional, they used the paddles. Once they got her to the ER, they immediately recommended the hypothermia procedure.”

She was then transported to the cardiac care unit, where medical staff began cooling her body.

HOW IT WORKS

Because she was unconscious and in cardiac arrest, she was a candidate for the procedure, which has been in place at Wise Regional since 2010. It is used to lower the body’s temperature, and in turn, metabolism. This decreases the body’s need for oxygen, therefore preserving brain tissue to prevent brain damage.

“We want everyone to return to baseline functions at the very least,” said LeAnn Cummings, director of the emergency department at Wise Regional. “To do so, our goal is to keep the body temperature between 91 and 92 degrees Farenheit. Normally, it’s 98.6 degrees.”

To do so, nurses place leg and torso wraps hooked to a machine that pumps chilled water over the patient.

But because timing is key, paramedics are equipped with chilled saline and ice packs to initiate the cooling process in a timely matter, should they first come into contact with a cardiac patient like they did Beasley.

“You have up to four hours to initiate (the procedure),” Cummings said. “The sooner the body gets cooled, the better the success rate.

“That’s why we’re proud to be one of the few emergency rooms that initiate treatment before a patient hits critical care,” she said. “EMS and the ER have gotten on board with initiating, and we are seeing better results since doing so.”

Once the cooling process begins, medical staff hope to reach a desired body temperature in a set time frame before continuing with the treatment.

“Our goal is to get the body cooled within two hours and keep it cooled for 24 hours,” Cummings said. “Depending on the patient’s response, we start a gradual rewarming .2 to .25 degrees Celsius per hour. It’s a slow process that can take up to 12 hours. We can cool as fast as we want, but warming up is on the back end. You can really do some harm.”

Avara arrived at the hospital from Houston, where she and her husband, Rob, were doing prison ministry, at 11:30 the night of her mother’s second cardiac arrest that had occurred six hours earlier.

Avara immediately began praying over her unresponsive mother.

“After a while, her eyes came open,” Avara said. “She kept asking, ‘Where am I?,’ ‘What happened?,’ ‘Where is Bill (her husband)?’ She would ask the same questions every couple of minutes. But she was awake, and that’s all we cared.”

Relieved, Avara decided to head to the hotel to rest.

“On my way out, I asked the nurse to call us if anything changed,” she said. “Well, at 1:30 a.m. I get a call, and the nurse tells me that because she had been responding so well, they were going to start warming her back up – so many degrees every hour.”

Two days later, Beasley was taken off the ventilator, and she had a pacemaker put in the day before she was released. She spent 14 days in the hospital.

SUCCESS STORIES

Since the hospital began administering therapeutic hypothermia treatments a little more than a year ago, there have been 20 patients.

Beasley claims to be the 12th.

“I believe we were told only one person didn’t survive,” Avara said. “But I think that had to do with the severity of injuries and waiting too long to start the treatment. Otherwise, it has a great success rate.”

Beasley proudly boasts being one of the “better successes,” according to one of her physicians.

“The doctors said I responded better than anyone else,” Beasley said. “If I hadn’t, I probably would’ve been a vegetable in a nursing home.”

Since the incidents, Beasley has worked had to modify her diet, limiting her caffeine and fried foods.

However, she’s improved her quality of life to a greater extent.

“Since the treatment, I’ve quit smoking,” she said. “The doctor said the procedure helps detoxify the body. I’d tried quitting before, but I wasn’t successful. But I’ve never lit a cigarette since April 3.

“Before I went in, I was on oxygen 24/7,” she continued. “Now it’s just at night or during the day, if I need it. My lungs sound so much better. A lot of it has to do with not smoking, but it’s amazed me.

“I’ve really not had any issues with my heart since,” she added. “I’m dealing with other issues – emphysema, diabetes, hernias, high blood pressure, stage four chronic obstructive pulmonary disease – but my heart is fine. I go to the heart doctor every couple of months, and I have this monitor that checks my heart rate, heartbeat and sends that report every night.

“And there’s no brain damage, with the exception of some memory loss,” Beasley said. “But that’s one of the things they told me – that my short-term memory would be affected.

“Thankfully, that’s the only thing, and at least I can blame (memory loss) on that and not my age,” she said with a smirk. “God has been so good to me. Although my heart has stopped twice, I’ve been well taken care of and I’m still alive.”

ABOUT THERAPEUTIC HYPOTHERMIA

  • Wise Regional began using the treatment in October 2010
  • There have been 20 cases at the hospital, 18 of them successful
  • 45-79 age range

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