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Man Stays Awake During CPR For 90 Minutes: Report

Jun 06, 2018 08:06 AM EDT

Being awake and conscious as doctors administer CPR sounds like a plot from a terrifying horror-thriller — except it has actually happened in real life.

The knowledge that this is possible could change the face of patient care during CPR.

The Event

A recent case study examined an incident involving a man, 69 years old, who arrived at the Herlev Hospital in Copenhagen, Denmark. He then suffered a cardiac arrest in the hospital, according to attending physician and anesthesiologist Dr. Rune Sarauw Lundsgaard in an email to CNN.

Lundsgaard recounts that the medical staff immediately initiated CPR, then advanced CPR shortly after. Two paramedics along with four hospital porters took shifts in administering CPR by pairs.

The patient did not have any electrical activity detected in his heart during any point of the operations, he adds, and the organ's functions only continued due to the staff's compressions.

However, as the medical team went on to perform CPR for 90 minutes, the patient showed signs of consciousness and awareness.

"As soon as CPR was initiated, the patient opened his eyes," Lundsgaard recalls. "When CPR was performed, the patient was able to respond to verbal communication by moving eyes, lifting hands and legs and nodding his head."

During the events, the wife of the patient was in the room and had the opportunity to grasp his hand.

The physician says that it's a practice for the medical team to stop CPR once a patient becomes conscious. However, whenever the staff stopped CPR in the recent case, the patient would fall back to unconsciousness due to the heart being unable to function on its own.

An hour after the beginning of the incident, the doctors discovered an aortic dissection in the patient's heart, which is a potentially fatal condition and likely contributed to his cardiac arrest in the first place.

Ultimately, the man did not survive the episode, which hit Lundsgaard and the rest of the team especially hard.

"For me, having to tell the patient that we were unable to save his life ... and that in a minute we will stop chest compressions and you will not survive was a challenging situation," he says.

What It Means For Patient Care

These findings set forth new questions in ethics and patient care as the possibility of patients being able to feel and be aware of pain during CPR emerges. Health officials may begin to consider sedation to ease discomfort.

"At this time, we in the medical profession are not attending to the pain we cause nor are we aware about patients' levels of consciousness during CPR," Lundsgaard explains in a report from WebMD. "This should be an area of future research."

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