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Hiker resuscitated after 6-hour cardiac arrest

British mountaineer lost in Catalan Pyrenees survives severe hypothermia after groundbreaking technique in Vall d’Hebron hospital

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05 December 2019 06:20 PM

by

Alan Ruiz Terol | Barcelona

A British mountaineer has been resuscitated in Catalonia after suffering severe hypothermia and a 6-hour cardiac arrest, one of the longest ever recorded according to health professionals.

"It’s an exceptional case in the world," said Eduardo Argudo, a doctor at Barcelona’s Vall d’Hebron hospital, where a ground-breaking technique helped reintroduce oxygen in the patient’s blood long after the heart stopped beating.

"It feels incredible that I survived it and I’m just really lucky to be here and be able to go on with my life. I’m just happy," said the 34-year old hiker, named Audrey.

On November 3, Audrey and her husband got lost near the Vall the Núria, an extremely popular mountain resort in the Catalan Pyrenees. Emergency services found the couple two hours after they called 112, with worsening weather conditions and Audrey already unconscious.

  • "The hypothermia had a positive effect on her central nervous system, prolonging its ability to survive with a shortage of oxygen by ten times"

    Chus Cabañas · Emergency services

Basic revival techniques were first applied at the Campdevànol hospital, over 110 km north of Barcelona. She was then transferred by helicopter to Vall d’Hebron, where health professionals applied the Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO) technique on a patient with severe hypothermia for the first time in Spain. By then, Audrey’s heart hadn’t been beating for three hours.

The hypothermia, paradoxically, had its benefits: while bringing the patient to the brink of death, it also preserved the tissue in her body for much longer than it would in regular temperatures.

"Keeping her body at 18ºC, the hypothermia had a positive effect on her central nervous system, prolonging its ability to survive with a shortage of oxygen by ten times," said Chus Cabañas, the head of the Catalan emergency services in Central Catalonia. 

"With a normal heart attack, we have 40 minutes to intervene. 40 times 10 means 400 minutes, that’s 6 hours to carry out a sustained rehabilitation," he said. 

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  • Audrey (center) survived a 6-hour long heart arrest thanks to the ECMO technology used by health professionals at the Vall d'Hebron hospital (by Elisenda Rosanas)

  • Audrey (center) survived a 6-hour long heart arrest thanks to the ECMO technology used by health professionals at the Vall d'Hebron hospital (by Elisenda Rosanas)

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