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King’s College Hospital: man whose heart stopped for three hours makes full recovery

A man has been revived at King’s College hospital in a ‘miracle’ procedure after his heart stopped for three hours.

Paul Curtis was kayaking in Maidstone in Kent in April when he fell in, getting trapped in ice-cold water for around five minutes and suffering hypothermia.

Mr Curtis, 50, managed to get out of the water but then collapsed as his heart had stopped pumping blood. His body temperature was at just 23 C – down from the usual 36-37 C. A friend called an ambulance and performed CPR until paramedics arrived.

But the medics were unable to shock his heart into rhythm as his temperature was so low. With time of the essence, Mr Curtis was taken by air ambulance to King’s in Denmark Hill. While in the air he was kept alive with a mechanical chest compression system.

When they got to King’s, his body was warmed up by an extracorporeal membrane oxygenation machine (ECMO) – which acts as the lungs and heart.

Speaking from his hospital bed, Mr Curtis said: “The care I’ve had pre-hospital and at King’s has been phenomenal. The fact that I’m here today is testament to the skill and dedication of everyone who cared for me.”

Mr Curtis, an experienced endurance athlete who has taken part in triathlons, iron man events and ultra-marathons, is unsure about whether he will return to the water. “I’ve been given a second chance so I have to think carefully about whether I’ll kayak again,” he added.

Mr Curtis’s partner Christine Cordle, a community nurse, said: “It’s a miracle Paul is with us today. If just one link in Paul’s chain of survival – which included his friend who first administered CPR, the paramedics, air ambulance, A&E and critical care unit at King’s – had broken he wouldn’t be with us now.”

Dr Georg Auzinger, consultant in critical care and director of the ECMO service, said: “Normal body temperature is around 36 to 37 degrees but Paul’s dropped down to just 23 degrees, causing his heart to stop beating in a rhythm that could sustain life. Although he had no cardiac output for more than three hours, thankfully, Paul received the necessary first aid both at the scene and on his way to King’s to ensure his brain was not starved of oxygen. Once at King’s we used extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) to supply Paul’s vital organs, and especially his brain, with oxygen and warm the blood.

“ECMO is a type of long-term artificial heart-lung machine, which pumps blood around the body, adding oxygen and removing carbon dioxide, just like the heart and lungs would do. The machine rewarms the blood and returns it to the body, and this enabled us to shock Paul’s heart back into a normal rhythm.”

King’s is one of a few medical centres in the UK that have an ECMO. The hospital has supported about 150 patients since getting the machine in 2012.

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