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Lunch » Tags » Books » Reviews » Cheating Death: The Doctors and Medical Miracles that Are Saving Lives Against All Odds » User review

Can you ever overcome death or the agonal phase?

  • Dec 5, 2009
The moments just prior to death may consist of
what is called "the death rattle". This process
is typified by loud bursts, gasps, convulsions
and/or heaving. Some lucky patients have overcome
this sorry state to die another day. The agonal
phase and its aftermath is the subject of intense
debate in the medical community. The debate
concerns the actual time of death and the
appropriate strategies to maintain life until
the cellular structures in the body cease to
operate at any level to sustain life.

The curious case of an aspiring orthopedic surgeon
(Dr. Bagenholm) is described in Dr. Gupta's book.
There is some debate about whether or not this case
has ever been presented for a peer review.
There was a snow accident followed by a deep freeze
of the body and resuscitation on a heart-lung machine
to rewarm the blood. The attachment of an ECMO
artificial lung got the heart to beat producing
blood pressure and kidney function. The objective
was to keep the patient dry and warm with limited
drugs. There is much debate about the actual point
of death. A rule of thumb allows at least a 6 hour
period after which the process is said to be

A strength of the work is that the author explains
the sources of the stories together with a host
of professional journals to help support the
science described in the book. Typical citations
are from the following:

o the Annals of Surgery
o Circulation
o Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

The volume is reasonably priced for the extremely
valuable information content presented.

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Dr Joseph S Maresca ()
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About this book


High-profile physician-journalist Gupta—a medical reporter for CNN and columnist forTimewho declined President Obama's nomination to be surgeon general—knows a great story when he hears one, and in this collection he rolls out extraordinarily harrowing and inspiring tales from the annals of they-ought-to-be-dead. When there is an injury, a heart attack or any loss of oxygen to the brain, time is the essential factor in determining whether a patient will live. For instance, therapeutic hypothermia, by reducing the brain's need for oxygen immediately after a trauma, allows more time for treatments to work. Gupta also notes that lives can be saved through incremental changes to current medical techniques rather than revolutionary breakthroughs. Eliminating the breathing component from CPR and concentrating only on chest compressions has been shown to raise heart attack survival rates to an unheard-of 20%. The achievements are stunning, though Gupta notes none of the exciting medical changes that we've come across will eliminate the sense of awe and mystery that stalks our notions of death. Yet it's beyond comforting to know there are doctors who simply refuse to quit a brave but ultimately losing battle to wrestle control over death.(Oct. 12)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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ISBN-10: 044650887X
ISBN-13: 978-0446508872
Author: Sanjay Gupta
Genre: Science
Publisher: Wellness Central
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