Many are taught to accept every breath of every day as a blessing; and that ingrained thought has grown stronger in Lisa Bedford’s life every day since she left Memorial Hermann Greater Heights alive and well thanks to a twist on an old classic and many puzzle pieces falling into place.
Just last month, Bedford experienced a severe cardiac arrest that twice stopped her heart and had paramedics working for nearly an hour to keep her stabilized long enough to reach Memorial Hermann Greater Heights Hospital, where the use of medically-induced hypothermia, among other treatments, is credited for helping spare her life and prevent brain damage against most logical odds.
“I just couldn’t wrap my head around it. I couldn’t believe that this had happened to me. I really don’t have words,” she said of being told about the day’s events.
Warning signs, saving grace
Bedford’s day began like any other, heading off to work, when she experienced chest pains. Bedford considered taking the day off, but relented at the coaxing of her husband — and the decision might have saved her life.
“The best thing he told me to do [that day] was go to work,” she said.
Around 3 p.m., the day took what could very well have been a dire turn, as Bedford’s coworker heard her whisper to her to call 9-1-1. When the paramedics arrived, she was not yet in full-blown cardiac arrest yet, but then suddenly lost consciousness, and her heart stopped.
“I was told paramedics were there for about 50 minutes trying to revive me and get me stabilized,” she said. “Then, when we got to the ER, my heart stopped again and they had to shock my heart and do CPR again — I’ve still got the marks on my chest.”
Once Bedford reached the hospital, it was up to the team at Memorial Hermann Greater Heights to put a new use to a known cooling technology into action in a last-ditch attempt.
“The whole concept developed from the understanding that when living tissue is cooled, the metabolism slows down and [brain and neurological] tissue destruction slows down,” Dr. Phillip Hass, a cardiologist associated with MHGH and UTHealth, said of the process, which purposefully lowers the body temperature in the aftermath of a severe event to protect internal organs from further damage.
Doctors had previously attempted to inject saline intravenously or through tubes directly into the body to slow degeneration, but found it did not achieve the desired result.
“All those things were alright, but they never achieved the outcomes we hoped to achieve, because you can never really consistently keep the person cool,” Hass said.
Among the first to use the new Arctic Sun cooling technology more than a decade ago, MHGH now regularly uses the system in efforts to delay tissue degeneration which results from a brain injury or severe cardiac arrest. When cooling patients, Hass said doctors attempt to drop the body’s core temperature down to about 90 degrees.
Where previous attempts to cool patients fell short, he said, that many avenues led to wildly fluctuating body temperatures that rarely stayed consistent, limiting the chances of survival. Now, however, the use of Arctic Sun’s system that acts essentially as a radiator or air conditioner has enabled doctors and caretakers to increase survival chances from a cardiac arrest suffered outside a hospital to about 25 or 30 percent under the best of circumstances.
“You put pads over the legs, thighs, chest, arms and thorax. It’s basically ice water circulating to a series of tubes that cools the body like an air conditioner, so within a couple hours you can get the body temp down and keep it there consistently for 24 hours,” he said. “It’s not perfect, but it’s remarkably better than what we’ve had as recently as 10 years ago. Any organic material in the human body, if it’s cold, is going to stay functioning and preserved longer.”
At a loss for words
In the weeks since, Bedford discovered that the type of heart attack she experienced has been coined ‘The widow-maker.’
“It’s so hard to describe how I feel, not only knowing that my heart stopped twice, but to see I was a great candidate for this procedure to revive me and help me get through it. To this day, I can hardly believe I’m still alive,” she said. “[Even Dr. Hass] couldn’t believe I didn’t have any damage to my brain, and I’m extremely grateful for that.”
Bedford said she senses herself getting stronger every day, with the only real outward sign of the episode a slight weakness in her left hand.
“I don’t have any forgetfulness, my mind is still sharp, I can still do daily stuff around the house. I can do all the normal daily activities. I feel like I’m almost 70 percent well and back to my normal self,” she said.
Through it all, however, she remains in awe of the day’s events.
“There’s a fire station minutes from my office, so it didn’t take paramedics long to get there That day, [my coworker] also didn’t have [her music] on, which she normally does, and I’m just so thankful. [The paramedics] were fighting for me as I was fighting for myself, and that’s incredibly amazing,” she said. “There are just so many things that fell in line in that place to put me in a situation where I was able to survive. It was just so many things that God put in place that led up to my survival.”