“His heart didn’t beat for 45 minutes”

It is a miracle of medicine. The mountaineer Michael Knapinski was dead, during 45 minutes, with his heart stopped and now he is recovering in an American hospital. Michael Knapinski was found unconscious from hypothermia in the Mount rainier, state Washington, and transferred to the hospital Seattle in cardiorespiratory arrest.

Nothing could be done to save his life, after 45 minutes of futile attempts, except a science fiction measure: remove the blood from the body with a machine, a ECMO, to oxygenate it and transfuse it again. Two days later he opened his eyes without having suffered any brain or cardiopulmonary damage

Now he is grateful to the hospital, to science, and to an oxygenation system that is also being used to recover in the ICUs to coronavirus patients.

This 45-year-old hiker disappeared in Mount Rainier National Park on November 7, amid thick fog. Michael Knapinski was found almost a day later by an air rescue team, who took him by helicopter to the Harborview Medical Center in Seattle. He had frostbite symptoms and was unconscious.

He had a pulse, but soon went into cardiac arrest: “He died while in the ER, which gave us the unique opportunity to try to save his life by basically bypassing his heart and lungs, which is the most advanced form of artificial life support that we have in the world “, explains Dr. Jenelle badulak to Seattle Times.

This is how ECMO works

Doctors repeatedly performed cardiopulmonary resuscitation and connected him to an extracorporeal membrane oxygenation device (ECMO). In that process, blood is pumped out of the body to a heart-lung machine that removes carbon dioxide and sends oxygen-filled blood to the body’s tissues.

Knapinski was lifeless for about 45 minutes. Afterwards, they managed to restart his heart and stabilize his condition, and two days later the patient opened his eyes: “He came back from the dead … It may not have been medically correct, but his heart did not beat for more than 45 minutes. It is amazing” , has pointed out Saman arbabi, medical director of the Harborview surgical intensive care unit.

To this day, Knapinski still has some heart and kidney problems, and some cognitive problems, but doctors think he will be fine.

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