“Cooling cap” device helps prevent complications during heart surgery

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CHICAGO. -- Technology used to keep astronauts cool in their spacesuits and protect our soldiers from brain injuries on the battlefield is now being used on heart patients. The idea is to induce hypothermia in the head during surgery to protect it.

For Roland Flessner, biking is a lifestyle.

Flessner says, “I’ve been a year-round bike commuter here in Chicago for 24 years and I’ve ridden about 60,000 miles just commuting.”

But last year, he suddenly found his bike rides becoming exhausting.

“I just knew something was wrong,” Flessner explained.

Diagnosed with an aortic aneurysm, he scheduled surgery.

Flessner said, “He (the doctor) described it as being similar to a bulge in a bike tire.”

Roland’s surgeon, Paul Pearson, MD, PhD, Cardiovascular Surgeon at NorthShore University HealthSystem Cardiovascular Institute in Chicago is one of the first to use this new “cooling cap” device to help prevent complications during heart surgery, such as delirium and memory loss.

Dr. Pearson says, “We are trying to develop a system where we can better allow patients to wake up without a lot of the side effects that they commonly have from general anesthesia.”

The “cooling cap” is placed on a patient’s head during surgery. Liquid coolant induces hypothermia without impacting the rest of the bod and is thought to help speed recovery.

“Inflammation, free radicals, all the bad actors that you hear about that can cause temporary dysfunction of the brain. We’re trying to minimize those,” Dr. Pearson explained.

Roland is back at work with no impairment to his memory.

“I just feel really lucky,” he said. And he’s back on his beloved bike.

Dr. Pearson says the “cooling cap” may also one day be used to treat athletes for sports concussions.


REPORT: MB #4030

BACKGROUND: There are many types of heart conditions that can require surgery. A serious heart condition such as an aortic aneurysm can burst, cause serious bleeding and potentially lead to death. An aortic aneurysm is a bulge in a section of the body's main artery, the aorta. The aorta's main responsibility is to carry rich blood from the heart to the rest of the body. Aortic aneurysms can be caused by high blood pressure and atherosclerosis, or the hardening of the arteries. These complications, along with natural wear and tear that occurs with aging, weaken the artery walls which can result in an aneurysm.
(Source: http://www.webmd.com/heart-disease/tc/aortic-aneurysm-overview)

SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS OF AN AORTIC ANEURYSM: Many people do not notice any symptoms caused by their aortic aneurysm. If symptoms do occur, patients may complain of belly, chest or back pain and discomfort. These symptoms may come and go or stay constant. Roland Flessner noticed some fatigue and said his main symptoms were digestive problems. A worst case scenario is the aneurysm bursts or ruptures which can cause severe pain and bleeding. This often leads to death within minutes or hours.
(Source: http://www.webmd.com/heart-disease/tc/aortic-aneurysm-overview)

NEW TECHNOLOGY: Typical treatment for an aortic aneurysm is surgery. A doctor will repair the damaged part of the blood vessel during open surgery or a minimally invasive procedure. Now doctors are using a "cooling cap" to help with these surgeries. Paul Pearson, MD, PhD, Chief, Division of Cardiac Surgery at NorthShore University HealthSystem Cardiovascular Institute in Chicago is using a "cooling cap" in order to prevent brain damage related to cardiovascular surgery. This "cooling cap" may also decrease post-surgical side effects and speed the recovery process for the patient. Initially designed for astronauts and later used for soldiers, the "cooling cap" is placed on the patients scalp and neck. Liquid coolant induces hyperthermia, but not frost bite. It is believed that this elective cerebral hyperthermia is what limits the side effects of brain damage related to surgery.
(Sources: http://www.webmd.com/heart-disease/tc/aortic-aneurysm-overview?page=2, Dr. Paul Pearson)