A London hospital has released details of how a patient whose heart stopped for three hours has made a full recovery.
The 50-year-old amateur athlete was flown to King’s College Hospital for life-saving ‘blood warming’ treatment after being submerged in near-freezing waters and lived, thanks to a ‘chain of survival’ that resulted in rapid access to an artificial heart and lung machine.
In April, Paul Curtis was admitted to the hospital and put on extracorporeal membrane oxygenation – a machine that takes over the work of the lungs and heart –when a kayaking accident left him submerged in ice-cold waters for around five minutes, causing life-threatening hypothermia.
Core body temperature dropped to just 23 degrees
The accountant and recreational endurance athlete initially managed to get out of the water, but with his core body temperature dropping to just 23 degrees his heart began to quiver and stopped pumping blood. Following his collapse, a friend who had been out kayaking with him administered CPR before the ambulance service arrived and took over.
With the victim’s core body temperature so low, paramedics were unable to shock his heart into a normal rhythm, so an air ambulance was called to ensure a rapid transfer to King’s. While in the air, a mechanical chest compression system kept him alive before he was transferred onto the oxygenation machine, which warmed his body.
“Normal body temperature is around 36 to 37 degrees, but Paul’s dropped down to just 23 degrees, causing his heart to stop beating in a rhythm that could sustain life,” explained Dr Georg Auzinger, Consultant in Critical Care at King’s College Hospital.
Necessary care ensured brain not starved of oxygen
“Although he had no cardiac output for more than three hours, thankfully Paul received the necessary first aid both at the scene and on his way to King’s to ensure his brain was not starved of oxygen. Once at King’s we used extracorporeal membrane oxygenation to supply Paul’s vital organs, and especially his brain, with oxygen and warm the blood.”
Dr Auzinger said the latter process shocked the heart back into a normal rhythm.
Speaking from his hospital bed, Curtis said the care he had received pre-hospital and at King’s had been phenomenal. “I’ve been given a second chance, so I have to think carefully about whether I’ll kayak again,” he added.
His partner Christine Cordle, a nurse, said: “It’s a miracle Paul is with us today. If just one link in his chain of survival – which included his friend who first administered CPR, the paramedics, air ambulance, accident and emergency [staff] and [the] critical care unit at King’s – had been broken he wouldn’t be with us now.”