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Sam Parnia – the man who could bring you back from the dead

Sam Parnia MD has a highly sought after medical speciality: resurrection. His patients can be dead for several hours before they are restored to their former selves, with decades of life ahead of them.

Parnia is head of intensive care at the Stony Brook University Hospital in New York. If you’d had a cardiac arrest at Parnia’s hospital last year and undergone resuscitation, you would have had a 33% chance of being brought back from death. In an average American hospital, that figure would have fallen to 16% and (though the data is patchy) roughly the same, or less, if your heart were to have stopped beating in a British hospital.

Parnia has some interesting ideas about cardiac arrest resuscitation. They certainly merit investigation and study. They might even merit a larger trial, but the article being aimed at a non medical and non scientific audience, doesn’t really give enough detail.

He points out that mechanical chest compressions are more efficient, certainly more consistent, than having a human do it.

He advocates active cooling while resuscitation is in progress, not after the Return of Spontaneous Circulation. Which may or may not make sense, again we don’t know.

His idea of using extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) is certainly intriguing.

I think this might all be worth investigating, especially in the in hospital setting.

Still, get a whiff of self promotion in this article. Parnia has a new book out, all about, uh, something. I’m not quite sure what exactly the book is about. Maybe if you read the article you can tell me. It seems like a great deal of metaphysical speculation about the nature of death. I’m not quite sure how that relates to a new approach to resuscitation.

Parnia’s belief is backed up by his experience at the margin of life and death in intensive care units for the past two decades – he did his training at Guy’s and St Thomas’ in London – and particularly in the past five years or so when most of the advances in resuscitation have occurred. Those advances – most notably the drastic cooling of the corpse to slow neuronal deterioration and the monitoring and maintenance of oxygen levels to the brain – have not yet become accepted possibilities in the medical profession. Parnia is on a mission to change that.

Is his experience quantifiable? That is, can he reduce it to numbers and put them into a study so that other people can review his data and maybe replicate it? Or does he have two decades of anecdote which he is trying to convince us is actually data?

Because with out data to back up his theories, he’s just seems to be selling a book.


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After a long career as a field EMS provider, I'm now doing all that back office stuff I used to laugh at. Life is full of ironies, isn't it? I still live in the Northeast corner of the United States, although I hope to change that to another part of the country more in tune with my values and beliefs. I still write about EMS, but I'm adding more and more non EMS subject matter. Thanks for visiting.