Clinical Paper| Volume 88, P126-131, March 2015

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Extracorporeal life support (ECLS) for refractory cardiac arrest after drowning: An 11-year experience



      Neuroprotective effects of hypothermia may explain surprisingly high survival rates reported after drowning in cold water despite prolonged submersion. We described a cohort of refractory hypothermic cardiac arrests (CA) due to drowning treated by extracorporeal life support (ECLS) and aimed to identify criteria associated with 24-h survival.


      Eleven-year period (2002–2012) retrospective study in the surgical intensive care unit (ICU) of a tertiary hospital (European Hospital Georges Pompidou, Paris, France). All consecutive hypothermic patients admitted for refractory CA after drowning in the Seine River were included. Patients with core temperature below 30 °C and submersion duration of less than 1 h were potentially eligible for ECLS resuscitation.


      Forty-three patients were admitted directly to the ICU during the study period. ECLS was initiated in 20 patients (47%). Among these 20 patients, only four (9%) survived more than 24 h. A first hospital core temperature ≤26 °C and a potassium serum level between 4.2 and 6 mM at hospital admission have a sensitivity of 100% [95%CI: 28–100%] and a specificity of 100% [95%CI: 71–100%] to discriminate patients who survived more than 24 h. Overall survival at ICU discharge and at 6-months was 5% [95%CI: 1–16%] (two patients).


      Despite patient hypothermia and aggressive resuscitation with ECLS, the observed survival rate is low in the present cohort. Like existing algorithms for ECLS management in avalanche victims, we recommend to use first core temperature and potassium serum level to indicate ECLS for refractory CA due to drowning.


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