From Clinical Death to Restored Life

EKG and stethoscope

Cheri Amelon has no idea if it was an out-of-body experience or just a bad dream. All she remembers is the unnerving sensation of holding her husband's hand while hovering in the air above a woman in distress.

"I just kept saying, 'We've got to help that girl!'" Amelon says.

"Then I realized that girl was me."

Amelon recalls nothing else from her "sudden death." She experienced cardiac arrest (no heart beat) leading to "clinical death" (no breath, no pulse).

Cardiac arrest is nearly always fatal, Amelon survived and appears to be recovering fully with no long-term memory loss.

Fortunate events led to Amelon's remarkable outcome. John Amelon saved his wife's life by CPR and a 911 call. The 911 call brought paramedics to the Amelon's home, where three jolts from a defibrillator restarted her heart. Following this, Amelon benefitted from Arctic Sun® technology to induce hypothermia.

The Arctic Sun® system pushes cold fluids through hollow pads that hug the patient's body, thus lowering the body temperature and diminishing a damaging inflammatory process that occurs naturally when blood flow is restored.

Steven Hata, MD, medical director of the Surgical Intensive Care Unit, says the cold therapy technique mimics the experiences of people who survive lengthy accidental submersions in frigid water.

"Even if the heart recovers after cardiac arrest, many patients sustain brain damage because of lack of blood flow and oxygen to the brain," Hata explains. "Rapid cooling limits damage to the brain cells so those cells don't go on to die."

In Amelon's case, she emerged from her comatose state and began to recover following induced hypothermia over a 24-hour period. During a two-weeks hospital stay, UI Heart and Vascular Center cardiologists placed a stent to keep open an artery that was 80 percent blocked. They also diagnosed a heart arrhythmia and implanted a defibrillator that will automatically shock her heart should it fail again.

"We feel really fortunate she ended up at University Hospitals," John Amelon says. "It was the best possible place for her to be."