Firefighter Makes ‘Chilling’ Comeback

Posted: September 2, 2021

ICU Team, Arctic Sun Key in Recovery After Cardiac Arrest

When Fairfield Firefighter-Paramedic Ryan Hughes, 33, suffered a cardiac arrest on the scene of a structure fire in June, his future looked grim.

Heroic efforts by his colleagues and a quick response by Medic Ambulance brought him to NorthBay Medical Center, where the Emergency Department team worked on him nonstop for 20 minutes to resuscitate him.Ryan Hughes

“Sadly, that just meant he had a pulse,” wrote his wife, Taylor Burness-Hughes in a Facebook post. “Through literally freezing his body, insane medicine and medical staff skills, unfreezing him and SO many things in between… My Ryan slowly came back to life on June 21.  I’m beyond thankful for NorthBay’s team of true professionals and amazing human beings from the ER to ICU and every speciality in-between,” she wrote.

So what exactly was “freezing, insane medicine, unfreezing and many things in between?”

It was a treatment called Targeted Temperature Management, or TTM, explains Natalie Correll-Yoder, R.N., clinical nurse specialist and part of the clinical education team.

A study in 2002 showed that patients who received hypothermia treatments within four hours of cardiac arrest had a significant improvement in survival over those who did not.

In some cases, patients experience a brain injury following a cardiac arrest.

“It happens when blood returns to the brain,” Natalie explained. “It’s called a reperfusion injury. So we cool the patient between 89.6 degrees to 98.6 degrees to protect their brain and give them a better chance at survival.”

NorthBay Healthcare acquired a machine called “The Arctic Sun” in 2016. The entire ICU team of 120 nurses at both hospitals has been trained to use it. Before the pandemic, it was used two to four times a month, but since 2020 use has nearly tripled.

At NorthBay Medical Center, within an hour of his arrival, the ICU team applied special pads to Ryan’s body to lower his temperature.

“The ED team resuscitated him, but the ICU team cooled him and saved the rest of him,” said Natalie. “That’s teamwork.”

The ICU cooling team included Jason Velez, R.N.;  Gerick Yanez, R.N.; Nancy Rodriguez, R.N.; Natalee Muth, R.N.; and Kristen Rice, R.N.

“We keep the temperature there for at least 24 hours and then we rewarm them to normal temperature,” Natalie explained. “These patients are placed in the ICU and monitored closely because they can have all kinds of electrolyte shifts and other complications when their temperature is going down to 89.6 degrees and then coming back up to 98.6 degrees.”

The pads are left in place for up to 72 hours, to prevent a patient from running a temperature that could also cause a brain injury.

“The brain is very vulnerable during this time frame,” said Natalie.

The Emergency Department nurses have also been trained to use the Arctic Sun and can get the therapy started, because “the sooner we start — the better chance the patient has for survival,” said Natalie.

Ryan had to be deeply sedated and paralyzed for two days, and was sedated for a total of three days.

“That’s because TTM makes them really cold and a conscious person does not tolerate it at all,” said Natalie. “We also paralyze them if they start to shiver. Shivering drives the metabolism up, and makes more work for the heart and the rest of the body.”

The team that monitored Ryan during the deep freeze and was there when he was warmed up includes: Tara Pettus, R.N.;  Mark Reyes, R.N.; and Jessica Castro, R.N.; and traveling nurse Tori Hinen.

Jason Velez, R.N., was the receiving nurse when Ryan arrived in the ICU, and took care of him for four days.

“We immediately settled him, stabilized him and activated TTM,” he recalls. “I was his nurse when we made the decision to extubate him.”

Eventually, once Ryan could speak, he and Jason formed a bond of friendship.

“It was great to speak with him and see him go downstairs to Unit 1600,” said Jason, who visited Ryan and Taylor every time he came to work.

“He reminded me of my own family. Ryan and I are the same age, our wives are the same age, and our boys are the same age. So as a father and a husband I could relate to his family dynamic in many ways. I wanted him so badly to get well! I prayed that he would be able to continue to enjoy his boys and loving wife, Taylor, who by the way never left his side.”

What also stood out to Jason, was how much support Ryan had from his extended family, friends and coworkers.

“He had a powerful showing of support outside the hospital the night he was admitted,” he recalled. “There must have been at least eight to 10 fire engines and countless amounts of firefighters, family and friends in front of the entrance. This spoke volumes about the kind of person Ryan is — to have this kind of a showing and support was absolutely beautiful.”

Ryan was ultimately transferred to UCSF for more specialized care on his heart, and was discharged after six days with a defibrillator and a new lease on life.

“We will have much follow-up from here on Ryan’s heart, brain, and third-degree burns, but for now he’s doing FANTASTIC,” wrote Ryan Hughes and wife Taylor Burness-Hughes and family pose outside the hospital.his wife in a Facebook post. “ A literal walking/talking miracle!”

Ryan, Taylor and their two boys, Paxton, 3, and Dawson, 1, stopped by NorthBay Medical Center in July to deliver some pastries and heart-felt thanks to part of the team that saved his life. They met Arnold Cruz, D.O., Liz Goodreau, R.N., Anthony Navarra, R.N.; Michael Gallante, M.D., Jonathan Teal, ED tech, Jean Johnston, R.N., and Heather Theaux, R.N.; but of course there were others who couldn’t be there that day, including the ICU team. An army of angels, according to Ryan’s wife, Taylor.  

“Words don’t do it justice,” Ryan told them. “I’m so thankful for all of you.”

Taylor, who was happy to share Ryan’s story on social media told the world that the family has only one request to those who hear his story: “PLEASE hold your loved ones a little tighter on our behalf,” she wrote. “Don’t let a day pass without valuing who you are and what you have!!”

To this day, Jason continues to check in with Ryan to see how he’s doing. He reports that Taylor has given birth to a beautiful baby girl, and that Ryan is treasuring his time with the family.


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