Purpose of review
Survival from traumatic cardiac arrest is associated with a very high mortality despite aggressive resuscitation including an Emergency Department thoracotomy (EDT). Novel salvage techniques are needed to improve these outcomes.
More aggressive out-of-hospital interventions, such as chest decompression or thoracotomy by emergency physicians or anesthesiologists, seem feasible and show some promise for improving outcomes. For trauma patients who suffer severe respiratory failure or refractory cardiac arrest, there seems to be an increasing role for the use of extracorporeal life support (ECLS), utilizing heparin-bonded systems to avoid systemic anticoagulation. The development of exposure hypothermia is associated with poor outcomes in trauma patients, but preclinical studies have consistently demonstrated that mild, therapeutic hypothermia (34 °C) improves survival from severe hemorrhagic shock. Sufficient data exist to justify a clinical trial. For patients who suffer a cardiac arrest refractory to EDT, induction of emergency preservation and resuscitation by rapid cooling to a tympanic membrane temperature of 10 °C may preserve vital organs long enough to allow surgical hemostasis, followed by resuscitation with cardiopulmonary bypass.
Salvage techniques, such as earlier thoracotomy, ECLS, and hypothermia, may allow survival from otherwise lethal injuries.