LANSING, MI (WLNS) – When your heart stops beating, your brain doesn’t get oxygen and that can lead to many serious problems.
A Michigan State University professor is hoping to change that.
He’s researching new technologies that could mark a shift in how we treat patients who suffer cardiac arrest.
It’s called ECPR.
“Every cardiac arrest patient suffers some form of brain injury. It’s not a question of if, it’s a question of to what degree,” said Dr. Joshua Reynolds, assistant professor of emergency medicine, Michigan State University.
When it comes to cardiac arrest, the threat of brain injury is always an elephant in the room.
“The job of the heart is to pump blood. Blood carries oxygen, anytime the heart stops or is not working properly the body is not getting oxygen. The most important organ of the body that needs oxygen is the brain.”
When the brain doesn’t get oxygen, MSU assistant professor of emergency medicine Dr. Joshua Reynolds says it can cause major damage, like the loss of motor skills and memory problems.
That’s something cardiac arrest survivor Joseph Sagy understands first-hand.
He went into cardiac arrest while working out back in 2012.
He survived, but had to relearn how to eat, walk and even talk again.
“They made me say stupid words and different things and I felt like a child,” laughed Joseph Sagy, cardiac arrest patient.
The lack of oxygen to Sagy’s brain affected his memory as well.
“We went to a wedding that Saturday and I looked in the checkbook after I came home and I said “who’s wedding is this?’”
It’s affects like this that Dr. Reynolds is hoping to prevent in the future.
He’s researching ways to alleviate brain damage following cardiac arrest and says one way to minimize brain injury is with a treatment called EDPR.
“It‘s a machine with dials and can dial blood flow up and down. So you can tightly control and provide normal physiological levels of blood flow to the body and to the brain,” said Dr. Reynolds.
Some hospitals around the world are already using and posting informational videos about this procedure, but it’s not for all patients.
“If you use it in a narrow time window and it only works if someone hasn’t already suffered irreversible brain and heart injury.”
Dr. Reynolds hopes his research will change that and lead to treatment with ECPR becoming more available for appropriate patients.
“We’ve seen that it works, but we’re also researching ways of how to use it better and how to use it in the best way and how to use it in a rational way.”
While ECPR can help reduce brain damage during cardiac arrest, it doesn’t come without any risks.
“It’s a big messy and basic process. You’re taking someone who’s technically dead, getting chest compressions and putting big tubes into big blood vessels.”
But even with those risks on the table, had Sagy had access to ECPR when his heart stopped beating, Dr. Reynolds says his road to recovery may have been much shorter.
“I used to be able to cut the grass and wash all the cars and do something else in a day. But if I cut the grass now it’s like that’s it you’re done for the day,” said Sagy.