City Ambulances put Heart Attacks on Ice

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New York City ambulances will no longer automatically take heart attack patients to closest hospital. Instead, they will only go to facilities with special body-cooling units. As WNYC's Fred Mogul reports, the technology is relatively new but early research indicates a big boost in survival rates.

Lowering the body temperature for 24 hours by about 8 degrees after a heartbeat has been reestablished appears to slow down other secondary traumas that can kill patients or leave them in a coma. The therapy is recommended for about a fourth of cardiac arrest patients, depending on the nature of their trauma and how quicly they were revived.

The city fire department, which runs the EMS ambulance system, has been test-piloting the delivery protocol over the last year. Starting January 1st, only facilities with cooling units will receive many cardiac arrest patients -- even if they're farther away than centers without the units.

FDNY paramedics deliver about 7500 cardiac arrests to hospitals annually. For WNYC, I'm Fred Mogul.