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Saving trauma patients

Armen Hareyan's picture

He's back to teaching a model-making class, and Chris Stanley knows it's a miracle after a terrible accident two years ago. Stanley was riding his bike on a busy road when he was hit by a car. "I slid up on the hood of the car, hit the windshield, and pushed that in," he said. "My helmet was destroyed." He flew 85 feet and landed without it.

Stanley's severe head injury allowed him to qualify for a new study. It's already being used in Europe, and now a national study is testing an experimental treatment to see if it can help improve survival rates for trauma patients.

Paramedics usually give trauma patients an IV filled with salt to replace lost blood. The level of salt is about the same as what's in the bloodstream. In the new study, patients got a more concentrated dose of saline or a placebo.

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"In a patient who has lost a lot of blood, you can rapidly restore their blood pressure by giving this concentrated salt that then draws extra fluid out of their tissues into their bloodstream," Trauma Specialist Eileen Bulger, M.D., of Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, explained.

Early results show the high doses of salt -- called hypertonic saline -- also improve blood flow to the brain, reduce brain swelling, and can decrease the risk of infection.

Dr. Bulger said, "Our goal is for the people who have lost a lot of blood to see if we can actually improve survival."

Hypertonic saline has been tested in smaller studies with and without a sugar solution. Results showed an improved survival but the numbers were too small to make the treatment a standard of care for trauma patients. Hypertonic saline is currently being used in 14 European countries.

Stanley doesn't know yet if he got the hypertonic saline or the placebo. He's just thankful for his amazing recovery. He added, "Just being able to speak, being able to walk, being able to think coherently are miracles."