Experimental Treatment Taking Place In Knoxville

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Knoxville (WVLT) When Buffalo Bills football player Kevin Everett suffered a severe spinal cord injury, there was speculation he would never walk again.

While his prognosis remains uncertain, an experimental treatment he received immediately following his injury is giving his doctors hope he will walk again.

It's called spinal cooling, or therapeutic hypothermia and, coincidentally, doctors are about to start performing it here.

It sounds more like science fiction than science, pumping icy cold saline into a patients veins to prevent further damage from a stroke or brain injury.

UT football team physician Chris Klenck says as players get stronger, doctors have to work smarter.

Chris Klenck, UT Football Team Physician says, "as these guys get stronger and bigger and faster, we see more serious head and neck injuries every year."

The goal of therapeutic cooling is to cool the body tissue by a few degrees to limit swelling and inflammation, and the chemicals that cause further damage after an injury.

A team of UT Medical Center doctors currently perform the procedure on a limited number of patients.

Dr. Paul Branca, UT Medical Center Pulmonologist says, "it's very labor intensive. It's very difficult to do, in fact, the last time we did it, it took me and two nurses bedside for a couple of hours to get the person to the right range."

Soon, a machine will do some of the work for them, allowing doctors to perform the procedure on more patients, more often.

Branca continues, "is a central catheter that we place in the vein that more directly cools the blood."

Medical experts say the reason Kevin Everett's situation has improved so dramatically, is because spinal cooling was applied so quickly.

But some predict it could be become the standard of care on the sideline, with treatment beginning in an ambulance.

Klenck says, "I think it holds a lot of promise, I mean we're all very excited that there may be other options for people who have such catastrophic injuries."

UT Medical Center will expand its therapeutic cooling treatment to include more stroke and brain injury patients by the end of the year.

Doctors experimented with hypothermia as a treatment for spinal cord injuries back in the 1960's, but it had to be performed within three hours of the injury and the benefits were minimal.

Thanks to new and different cooling methods, today, it is showing much promise.

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