New technique could buy more time for reviving the recently dead

There may be no better place than Pittsburgh to have a brush with death — at least according to David Casarett, an author and associate professor of medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. In a recent interview with Wired, the scholar discussed his new book on the topic of resuscitating the recently deceased and the ethical issues that this can involve.

In most cases, people cannot be revived after their hearts have stopped beating for even a few minutes. In a hospital setting, this means that a failure to properly monitor a patient’s vital signs or respond quickly in the event of cardiac arrest can quickly prove fatal. In these situations, the hospital or attending medical staff may be liable to the family of the deceased individual for wrongful death.

Once in a while, however, there is a case involving someone who essentially “comes back to life” after being without vital signs for an hour or more. These situations all have one thing in common: cold.

At low temperatures, the cells of the brain and other vital organs can survive longer without oxygen and other nutrients, which would normally cause them to self-destruct in a matter of minutes. Modern medical science is working on developing ways to put this phenomenon into practice in a clinical setting.

One such trial is underway at the University of Pittsburgh medical center. There, a small number of trauma patients who meet the right criteria — including massive blood loss and cardiac arrest — will have their blood replaced with chilled saline solution in an effort to give doctors the time they need to repair the wounds and save the person’s life.

If the trial goes well, Casarett speculates that the procedure could become the new standard of care for near-death trauma patients in coming years.

Source: Wired, “9 Things to Know About Reviving the Recently Dead,” Greg Miller, July 30, 2014