How a Toilet Plunger Improved CPR

“It is dismal,” said Dr. Keith Lurie, a cardiologist at the University of Minnesota Medical School who treated the plunger patient in 1988.

The new procedure, known as neuroprotective CPR, has three components. First, a silicone plunger forces the chest up and down, not only pushing blood out to the body, but drawing it back in to refill the heart. A plastic valve fits over a face mask or breathing tube to control pressure in the lungs.

The third piece is a body-positioning device sold by AdvancedCPR Solutions, a firm in Edina, Minn., that was founded by Dr. Lurie. A hinged support slowly elevates a supine patient into a partial sitting position. This allows oxygen-starved blood in the brain to drain more effectively and to be replenished more quickly with oxygenated blood.

The three pieces of equipment, which fit into a backpack, cost about $20,000 and can be used for several years. The devices have been separately approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

About four years ago, researchers began studying the combination of all three devices used in tandem. At this week’s meeting, Dr. Paul Pepe, a longtime CPR researcher and the director of Dallas County’s emergency medical services, reported results from 380 patients who could not be revived by defibrillation, making their odds of survival particularly bleak. Among those who received the new CPR method within 11 minutes of cardiac arrest, 6.1 percent survived with brain function intact, compared with just 0.6 percent who received traditional CPR.

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