WHAT'S WORKING: Quick thinking and new cooling technique save man's life

CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) - In a medical emergency, we all know that seconds count. East End native can certainly testify to that fact. He had a heart attack at the Cincinnati Zoo, but lived to tell the tale.

May 18th, 2011 is a day that 55-year-old Terry Huffman will never forget, even though he can't remember it. He was at the Cincinnati Zoo, chaperoning a field trip for his nephew and the rest of his third grade class.

"I told one of the parents that I wasn't feeling well, and I guess after that, I toppled over," said Huffman.

Zoo Security Supervisor Sarah Benjamin was called to Frisch's Theater in the Education Center.

"While I was on my way up here, we did get a call from the education building," said Benjamin. "I asked if he was breathing. They said that he was not."

Huffman had suffered a massive heart attack. It was one so severe that doctors call it the "widow maker."

"Terry was on the ground," said Benjamin. "They had cleared a lot of the chairs away from him. His eyes were open. He was looking at the ceiling. He was unresponsive."

She grabbed the zoo's defibrillator. She used it on Huffman, but only after performing CPR.

"It's a simple machine," said Benjamin. "It tells you what to do. It has an on button, and it has a shock button."

Cincinnati fire crews arrived minutes later, and rushed Huffman to University Hospital, but it didn't look good.

Dr. Imran Arif, M.D. supervised an emergency heart catheterization .

"Basically going into the groin, up into the heart arteries, finding out where the problem was," said Dr. Arif. "He had a 100-percent blocked artery. The main artery that was going to his heart."

Huffman's heart wasn't receiving any blood.

Dr. Arif was able to ease Huffman's blockage, but even then, Huffman was nowhere near out of the woods. Doctors said those who do survive heart attacks often have dismal outcomes because of the damage done to the brain. That's why doctors at UC recently changed their hypothermia protocol.

About one year ago, Dr. William Knight, M.D. pushed to buy a cooling machine which uses catheters.

"Cold water will go in here and fill up these balloons," said Dr. Knight. "There's three of them on the end of the catheter and the patient's blood will just bathe it."

The machine helps lower a person's overall temperature to 32 degrees Celsius or 92 degrees Fahrenheit. Huffman was connected to the machine for two days.

"He came in, he got his artery and his heart opened up at about the same time our team was making him cold," said Dr. Knight. "Then we kept him that way for about 24 hours. We monitored his brainwaves; making sure he wasn't seizing, making sure he wasn't shivering, and then gradually and slowly warming him back up."

"All the doctors would come in every day and say, 'Oh you made it. We didn't think you were going to make it,'" Huffman recalled.

One week later, Benjamin found Huffman.

"I walked into the hospital and I'm like you look so much better than the last time I saw you," said Benjamin. "He's like, 'I have all these tubes and everything and I'm like it doesn't matter!"

Three weeks later, Huffman was released from the hospital. He recently started walking again.

"I think I'm anxious," said Huffman. "Never been away from work this long. Sometimes it gets aggravating because I walk with a walker, a cane. I'm not use to that. I'm used to being on the go."

Still, Huffman has now gained a friend and learned a lesson: learn CPR.

"That is critical to somebody's survival," said Dr. Arif.

"If anyone walks away with anything it's go and get trained," said Benjamin. "I mean, I used it here at work. I would have used it there at home. It's something that you never know you're going to need, but it could make all the difference."

All the difference between being a story talked about and having a wild tale to tell on Huffman's next trip to the zoo with his nephew.

"I'm almost ready," said Huffman. "I'm coming back to the zoo!"

Dr. Knight said typically about ten to fifteen percent of cardiac arrest patients survive. Their new cooling protocol has more than quadrupled that number, giving UC a higher than national average for hospitals their size. In the last year, so far, nearly 50 patients have used the new hypothermia protocol. UC is helping other hospitals develop their own protocol, as well.

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