There seemed to be nothing special about Saturday, June 16, 2012, when Annapolis High School art teacher Ana Duhon and her mother went out shopping for a Father’s Day gift. Until Ana passed out.
When her mother couldn’t awaken her 35-year-old daughter, she called 911. Ana’s heart had suddenly gone into ventricular fibrillation, a quivering rhythm in which no blood is pumped from the heart. Her brain was starving for oxygen, she was in cardiac arrest and without immediate treatment she would die.
Paramedics performed CPR and shocked her heart, but her rhythm remained erratic. When she arrived at AAMC, her heart was pumping only approximately 15 percent of the blood it normally should. Interventional cardiologist Scott Katzen, MD, ruled out a coronary blockage—something he could have fixed immediately in the Cardiac Catheterization Lab. He knew he needed to do something fast.
“We decided to perform therapeutic hypothermia in which we cool the body down to slow the metabolism,” said Dr. Katzen. “Studies show that when proper circulation returns to the body, recovery can be improved if you can slow the metabolism of the brain and all the organs.”
Intensivist Sjoerd Beck, MD, cooled Ana’s body temperature with a specialized cooling blanket available at AAMC until doctors were able to return her heart rhythm to normal. As doctors gradually re-warmed Ana’s core temperature, her body was able to recover, and her life is returning to normal. It’s still unclear why Ana’s heart failed, but fortunately, the cardiac care and therapeutic hypothermia she received saved her heart, her brain and all of her vital organs.
“I feel lucky to be here,” Ana said. “To spend time with my four-year-old son, to be raising him, and to be able to teach again.”