Published on March 04, 2013

Therapeutic hypothermia saves sudden cardiac arrest patient

Therapeutic hypothermia helped save Rochelle Whittington’s life

Rochelle WhittingtonRetired correctional officer Rochelle Whittington ate right, worked out and maintained a healthy weight. She had no family history of heart disease and no apparent symptoms. As she sat in her daughter Nikole’s family room on March 9, 2012, there were no warning signs of the sudden cardiac arrest that would nearly end her life.

When Rochelle fainted, Nikole took action and began CPR. Realizing she needed help, she found a neighbor—an EKG technician— who performed CPR while Nikole dialed 911.

Classic symptoms like chest pain, nausea and dizziness often signify a heart attack, in which blockages hinder blood flow to the heart, but the heart continues to beat. In sudden cardiac arrest, the heart stops beating and Sometimes the only symptom is fainting. The condition is fatal if treatment isn’t initiated within a few minutes, and brain damage caused by a lack of blood flowing to the brain can also occur very quickly.

Damage control

When the ambulance reached Nazareth Hospital’s Emergency Department, the ED team was able to get Rochelle’s heart beating again, although she was in critical condition. The team collaborated with Nazareth’s intensivists—physicians who specialize in care for critically ill patients.

The family gathered at the hospital and the American Red Cross alerted Rochelle’s son, who was stationed in Afghanistan. While the family feared the worst, lead intensivist Scott Chelemer, MD, medical director of Critical Care Units at Nazareth, delivered the news that Rochelle was in a coma, but alive. After careful consideration, Dr. Chelemer and his team recommended therapeutic hypothermia (TH), a treatment that lowers the patient’s body temperature to reduce the risk of brain damage.

Rochelle’s body temperature was lowered over 24 hours and then raised again over the next 24 hours. “For the next 48 hours all we could do was wait, hope and pray,” says Rochelle’s fiancé, Steven Hoskins.

To her family’s delight, Rochelle woke up on Monday, March 11. She recovered at Nazareth Hospital and then had a combination pacemaker/ defibrillator implanted at Penn Presbyterian Medical Center, Nazareth’s cardiac care partner. Rochelle gradually has rebuilt her strength and is now back to enjoying life with her fiancé, four children and their families.

“I’m feeling like my old self,” says Rochelle. “If it weren’t for the people at Nazareth, I wouldn’t be here now.”

To learn more about Nazareth Hospital’s expert, personalized cardiac health care, call 1.866.NAZARETH (1.866.629.2738).