The last thing Chris Colburn remembers about Jan. 10 is playing golf. That evening the Tupelo resident suffered full cardiac arrest at home—meaning his heart suddenly stopped beating and blood stopped flowing to his organs, including his brain. He was found unconscious by a friend who started chest compressions and called an ambulance to rush him to North Mississippi Medical Center in Tupelo.
The ambulance crew shocked Chris’ heart twice at his home and four times en route to NMMC, where cardiologist Barry Bertolet, M.D., and the Cardiac Catheterization Laboratory team immediately began working to restore blood flow to his heart. Dr. Bertolet used an intra-aortic balloon pump to increase blood flow to Chris’ coronary arteries and the rest of his body during the procedure. He also used hypothermia therapy to lower Chris’ body temperature to reduce lasting damage to his brain.
Therapeutic hypothermia gives people who are unconscious after cardiac arrest the best possible chance for brain recovery. “It does no good to recover the heart if you don’t recover the brain,” Dr. Bertolet explained. “Hypothermia therapy puts you in a state of preservation.”
Chris’ body temperature was lowered to around 89-93°F and kept there for about 24 hours to prevent compromised cells from dying. NMMC has two Arctic Sun® devices—one in the Cardiac Catheterization Laboratory and one in the Emergency Department. These devices, which were provided by the Mississippi Health Care Alliance to every large hospital in Mississippi—circulate chilled water in external cooling pads to lower the body’s temperature and induce mild hypothermia.
After 24 hours, Chris’ body was slowly warmed back to a normal temperature. Open heart surgery had to be delayed because he had developed aspiration pneumonia from being resuscitated. Once Chris was well enough, cardiothoracic surgeon Vishal Sachdev, M.D., performed triple bypass surgery on Jan. 22. At admission, Chris’ heart pump function (called “ejection fraction”) was severely reduced at 10%, but by the time he went home, it was completely normal.
The following week Chris went home with another chance at life. Soon the 45-year-old Tupelo resident will return to his job as Director of Environmental, Health and Safety with the AGCO Corporation, which designs, manufactures and distributes agricultural equipment for Massey Ferguson, Challenger, Fendt, White and GSI brands. He’ll also resume serving as an engineering professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, his alma mater. And, he will return to the golf course for another round.