Hypothermic Treatment Saves a Life

March 25, 2014
Gary Wayland jokes that like any CPA, he’s very predictable. He follows the same routines and generally expects things fall in place.

That’s exactly what happened that October day after his usual Monday morning run along Hermosa Beach’s oceanfront Strand with his business partner. It was Gary’s turn to drive – and that’s pretty much the last thing he remembers. 

Gary suffered a heart attack at the wheel. His passenger took over and safely parked the car and began CPR. Fortunately, the pair was outside a fire station and a firefighter came out to take over the lifesaving procedures. Again it was fortunate for Gary that he was rushed to Providence Little Company of Mary Medical Center Torrance, where he met the criteria for hypothermic treatment, a system that cools the body to limit the possibility of neurologic damage caused by a lack of circulation. 

Doctors in the PLCMMCT Emergency Department quickly evaluated Gary to determine if he suited the criteria for the Arctic Sun cooling treatment. Pads are applied to the torso and thighs and the device cools those areas under very controlled conditions, slowing the heart rate and thus the body’s demand for regular blood flow. Catrice Nakamura, RN, the hospital’s critical care nurse manager, likened the treatment to the ability of near-drowning victims to survive because they were in very cold water. 

“You’re cooled to such a state that it preserves your brain functions,” Catrice said. “We’ve seen very good outcomes utilizing this therapy.”

Within days, Gary was on his way to recovery, with no signs of damage to his brain from lack of blood flow. A stent was inserted to open up one clogged artery and near the end of his stay, doctors implanted a small defibrillator, a device that will shock his heart it stops again. 

“The doctors have been fantastic; the ICU staff has been fantastic,” he said. “Except for afterward when I first talked to the doctor and said it was 2010 – I knew right away I was wrong – but besides that, I haven’t felt like I have any loss of function. With the exception of that first mistake where I didn’t know the year, nobody has said to me, ‘Let’s look at your brain again.’” 

Providence Little Company of Mary Torrance began using this technique in 2010, championed by Robert Chang, M.D. Dr. Chang is an intensivist, a physician specializing in critical care who spends the day in the ICU seeing patients and reporting back to their personal physicians.  So far about 40 heart attack patients at PLMCMCT have received this therapy, which is recommended by the American Heart Association for those whose circulation returns within an hour. 

Gary is 60 and always has been active. He’s a runner, he helped establish the Manhattan Beach Athletic Foundation, which runs after-school programs and helps manage school booster clubs, and he referees Pac 12 college football and basketball. He won’t divulge his favorite team – but acknowledges his alma mater is the University of Southern California.

And he’s confident that thanks to a good friend, a firefighter and a knowledgeable and quick-acting care team at Providence Little Company of Mary Torrance, he’ll be back soon to his routine.