- The Washington Times - Friday, September 14, 2007

An experimental body-cooling treatment used on an injured National Football League player offers promise for preventing paralysis in people who sustain severe spinal cord injuries, researchers said yesterday.

But the value of “modest hypothermia,” the treatment used on Kevin Everett of the Buffalo Bills after he was injured in a game Sunday, is questioned by doctors who want to see more evidence that it helps those patients.

The idea behind the treatment is to lower the body temperature — but not by too much in order to avoid complications — to restrict damage to the spinal cord.

“Right now, it’s not mainstream medicine,” said Dr. Barth Green, co-founder of the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis at the University of Miami, who has helped develop the treatment.

“But it’s an amazing technique,” said Dr. Green, who has consulted with Everett’s doctors. “I think it’s very likely he’s going to walk again. Nothing is guaranteed in life. But every day, he’s getting better.”

Everett, 25, sustained the injury tackling another player in an apparently routine play. He is being treated at Millard Fillmore Gates Circle Hospital in Buffalo, N.Y.

Doctors initially feared Everett would be paralyzed, but said he had now, among other things, moved his legs and wiggled his toes in what they called a surprising recovery. Doctors said his spinal cord was not severed. They removed him from his ventilator Wednesday.

Doctors quickly gave the injured player cold saline intravenously to drop his body temperature to 92 degrees from the normal 98.6 degrees.

“What normally happens is over the next hours and days, the spinal cord itself undergoes massive self-destruction from swelling, from more hemorrhaging, from chemicals that sort of eat up the spinal cord once the damage is started,” Dr. Green said.

Cooling the body places the spinal cord in a state akin to hibernation, preventing the damage from worsening, he added. “A bad injury, instead of becoming permanent, becomes partial and becomes temporary. And that’s what happened with Kevin,” Dr. Green said.

Some doctors use hypothermia treatment on people with other conditions, but the use in spinal-cord injuries is new.

“All the indicators are that this makes a ton of sense to try to help these people with spinal-cord injury,” said William Worthen, president and chief executive of Alsius Corp., based in Irvine, Calif., which makes products for intravenous cooling.

Stephen Scheff, a University of Kentucky professor of anatomy and neurobiology, said the jury is still out on the effectiveness of the treatment for spinal-cord injuries.

Mr. Scheff wondered whether other treatments given to the player may have been responsible, perhaps the use of a steroid medication.

Mr. Scheff also noted that unlike many spinal-cord injury patients, Everett was seen by doctors just moments after the injury occurred and received treatment immediately — factors that can improve medical outcomes.

But he said there are no signs the hypothermia treatment can harm the patient.

“Here’s the bottom line on this: There’s nothing that really works for really sensational recovery from spinal-cord injury. Everybody’s searching for that,” Mr. Scheff said.

His doctors said Everett still could develop life-threatening blood clots and face the threat of a stroke.

Dr. Kevin Gibbons, head of the hospital’s neurological intensive care unit, was asked whether Mr. Everett would walk again. He said the odds are long, but “I wouldn’t bet against it.”

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