By all counts, the 54-year-old man who collapsed on a recent winter night in rural Minnesota would likely have died. He’d suffered a heart attack, and even though he was given continuous CPR and a series of shocks with a defibrillator, the man was without a pulse for 96 minutes. But this particular instance of cardiac arrest, reported first in Mayo Clinic Proceedings online, turned out to be highly unusual: “The patient made a complete recovery following prolonged pulselessness,” says anesthesiologist and cardiac care specialist Roger White, M.D., lead author of the article.
Emergency respondents administered a total of 12 defibrillator shocks and kept the patient’s blood flowing with continuous chest compressions. But a key piece of technology on the scene was capnography, which has been used to monitor patients in operating rooms but is not frequently used by emergency personnel when treating cardiac arrest. It measures how much blood is flowing through the lungs, and thereby, to other organs. As the measurement remained sufficiently high, the rescuers were encouraged to continue resuscitation efforts. “A pulse gradually returned,” Dr. White says. “The effort was successful in large part because of capnography, which informed emergency workers that if they persisted, it was conceivable they’d have a survivor on their hands.”