Amy Moore’s day started out like any other-up at 5:45 a.m., dressed, kids fed, husband kissed, and she was out the door of her Willow Springs, N.C., home by 7 a.m. Nine hours later, in mid-conversation with a colleague, the 38-year-old administrative assistant collapsed. When paramedics arrived a few minutes later, she had no pulse. “I was,” Moore recalls, “dead for 25 minutes.” Seven months after her sudden cardiac arrest on Sept. 14, she’s almost fully recovered. Moore owes her amazing outcome in large part to therapeutic hypothermia, a revolutionary treatment in which patients are cooled to temperatures near freezing. Almost unheard of a decade ago, the technique is being adopted by many hospitals and emergency medical systems in large cities to treat sudden cardiac arrest-when the heart suddenly stops beating. The technique has vastly improved the historically grim outcomes for those patients (see box). “Amy is walking, talking, working and enjoying her life,” says Dr. Joe Rossi, one of her doctors at University of North Carolina Hospitals in Chapel Hill. “She’s a great success story.”
There are several ways to “freeze” a patient, from applying gel pads filled with cold water to the torso and legs (as doctors did with Moore) to injecting a cooled saline solution into the veins. Doctors aren’t exactly sure how it works but believe it slows the body’s metabolism-delaying brain damage that usually occurs within minutes of cardiac arrest-and speeds the healing process. “It gives us tremendous hope for patients who until recently were mostly doomed,” says Dr. Lance Becker, director of the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Resuscitation Science.
A healthy mother of two, Moore has no memory of her near-fatal day or most of the days and weeks before or after. Her husband, Jacob, 32, a retail store manager, remembers every terrifying detail. “Amy’s coworker called and said, ‘Amy’s passed out and isn’t breathing,’ ” he says. “I freaked out.” He jumped into his car, crying the entire way to the hospital. He later watched as doctors began cooling his wife. “It was the scariest,” he says. “Her skin turned blue. Her face swelled up. She was ice-cold.”
Just 24 hours later, doctors started to reverse the process. After they brought Moore’s temperature back to normal, they told Jacob to help nurses shake Moore and yell every four hours to wake her. After one agonizing week of being kept alive with a ventilator and feeding tube, “Amy opened her eyes,” Jacob says, “and she was there.”
Moore’s doctors still don’t know what caused her heart to stop beating, so they installed an internal defibrillator to regulate her heartbeat. By the time she left the hospital two weeks after being admitted, she was able to speak, eat and walk on her own. But there was a lot she had to relearn-like where their son Chase’s school is located and how to cook their favorite meals. “It was so frustrating,” she says.
Still, things are getting back to normal, and every day she gives a little thanks. “My kids almost had to live without me,” she says. “Now I appreciate things in life that I took for granted.”