Doctors at the Alfred Hospital in Melbourne have a knack for resurrection. Thanks to a combination of two resuscitation techniques, the Australian team has successfully revived three patients who were officially dead for between 40 and 60 minutes.
One of those patients was 39-year-old Colin Fielder, who suffered a heart attack last year. While being whisked away in the ambulance, he was asked which of the two nearby hospitals he preferred. “For some reason, I said the Alfred, which is pretty lucky because they are the only one that has it,” Fielder said.
“It” is the AutoPulse, a portable CPR machine that performs constant chest compressions that essentially keep the heart beating. What makes the AutoPulse unique is that instead of pistons pressing and lifting only one part of the sternum, the AutoPulse uses a band that wraps around and squeezes the entire chest. (See a video of the machine in action below.) As a result, “victims receive more consistent, high-quality compressions… which means improved blood flow,” according to the manufacturer’s website.
In addition to the AutoPulse, the Alfred doctors also used a technique on Fielder called extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) — it’s essentially an artificial lung outside the body that keeps oxygen and blood flowing to the patient’s brain and vital organs. ECMOs have been used in the past for lung transplant recipients as well as extremely ill newborns. But it is this combination of ECMOs and the AutoPulse, currently in clinical trials at the Alfred, that has proved successful in reviving the dead.
The combination of the ECMO and AutoPulse helps to keep the body “living” while also giving doctors time to diagnose the heart attack’s source and treat it. More time and care mean an increased chance of survival and ensure further research can be conducted on cardiac arrests — still the most common cause of death worldwide.
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