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Medical refrigerators to help treat heart-attack patients

The River Falls EMS team and United Hospital representatives with the six new medical grade refrigerators that will be going into all of the EMS emergency response vehicles. From left, front row: Nicole Harding, Jeff Rixmann, Holly Mitchel, Garrett Gill. Second row: Mandy Pichla, Margot Stern, April Rixmann, Deb Free, David Miller, Natalie Kranig, Kat Meyers, Shana Lee Rossow, Deanne Claypool, Mary Blel, Gary Eloranta, Katy Frey, Mary Waters, Stacey LaPlount, Adam LaPlount. Back row: Rod Hillskotter, Bry...

River Falls Emergency Medical Services was presented with six medical-grade refrigerators donated by United Hospital of St. Paul Wednesday, June 8.

The refrigerators will be used to cool the materials used in a treatment for heart attack patients who remain unconscious after their hearts have been restarted.

The treatment, known as induced hypothermia, or therapeutic hypothermia treatment, works by cooling the body down to hypothermic levels.

James Flink, specialist in intensive care at United Hospital, said cooling the body is all about cooling the brain.

"If your heart stops and we're able to restart your heart, survival is based on survival of your brain," Flink said. So that's what we're trying to save."

When a heart stops beating during a heart attack, blood stops flowing, cutting off oxygen to all organs, including the brain.

With its oxygen supply cut, some brain cells die, releasing chemicals that could destroy more brain tissue.

Cooling the body down slows the spread of chemicals in the brain, decreasing damage in the brain, and giving the patient a better chance of surviving.

Jeff Rixmann, River Falls Ambulance director, said there have been three patients this year so far who could have benefited from therapeutic hypothermia treatment, but local ambulances did not have the equipment to start the cooling process.

Now, every ambulance in the River Falls EMS is equipped with a medical refrigerator, allowing personnel to begin the cooling process in the ambulance, rather than when the patient arrives at the hospital.

Flink says the idea behind starting the cooling process earlier could prevent more brain damage than does beginning cooling at a hospital.

This is Part Two of River Falls EMS's 2011 Cardiology Project. Part One was the replacement of three of River Falls EMS's oldest defibrillators with newer models. Part Three will be the purchase of four LUCAS 2 automatic chest compression machines to improve CPR.

Rixmann estimated the cost of the six refrigerators to be around $5,000 or $6,000.

River Falls EMS has spent $55,609 so far on the Cardiology Project, $49,969 of that was from the ambulance account, and bought the three new defibrillators.

The six coolers were donated. River Falls EMS is collecting donations for buying LUCAS 2 chest compression machines.

"We're about halfway there with our overall project, which is more than I thought we'd be at this time," said Rixmann.

Rixmann said River Falls EMS will purchase the chest compression machines one at a time as donations are collected.

Gretta Stark

Gretta Stark has been a reporter for the River Falls Journal since July of 2013. She previously worked as a reporter for the New Richmond News from June 2012 to July 2013. She holds a BA in Print and Electronic Media from Wartburg College.

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