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Why Hypothermia Could Be Helpful to Gunshot Victims

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Ambulance sitting behind ER sign
A breakthrough that could potentially revolutionize the E.R. room. (Getty Images)

 

America experiences a horrific number of gun deaths each year. (For more information on this topic, look at FiveThirtyEight‘s exploration of the more than 33,000 annual gun deaths from 2016.) A breakthrough in the treatment of shooting victims stands to save thousands of lives. The answer may come in the form of what sounds like more trauma: hypothermia.

Nicola Twilley explored this potential medical advancement for The New Yorker. For victims, gunshot wounds normally equal death: Twilley writes that for “most people who sustain traumatic injuries, whether from bullets or car crashes, death occurs within the hour.” (The reason is exsanguination cardiac arrest, the term for “losing so much blood that too little is left for the heart to continue to circulate.”) Quite simply, doctors often don’t have enough time to treat their patients before death occurs. Yet there may be a method to buy time: E.P.R. (emergency preservation and rescue). Twilley explains:

“[E.P.R.] is the result of nearly 30 years of work. The procedure has long been proved successful in animal experiments, but overcoming the institutional, logistical, and ethical obstacles to performing it on a human being has taken more than a decade.”

E.P.R.’s advocates believe it has the potential to revolutionize emergency rooms. Twilley continues:

“… the next step for treatment after CPR has failed, used to buy time and prevent brain death in almost any situation where a person’s heart has stopped and can’t be re-started quickly. It could save people dying from heart attacks or drug overdoses, or even kids who drown in backyard pools. ‘This is almost like open-heart surgery was back in the sixties,’ John Holcomb, the trauma surgeon in Houston, said. ‘It was only done in one or two places, it was extremely complex, it was considered very experimental. And now it’s routine.’”

To read the full article (and discover the challenges the procedure has encountered in becoming a common medical practice), click here.

RealClearLife Staff