Edwin Thate

For Edwin Thate, a hot day turned dangerous, but fast cooling and treatment at University of Maryland St. Joseph Medical Center’s ED saved his life

Edwin Thate’s story sounds a little like Rip Van Winkle’s, but Thate’s is not a myth— it’s a frightening, cautionary tale. Van Winkle took a nap in the mountains and woke up 20 years later. Thate, 68, went out on a beautiful, yet hot, spring day to rake leaves out of his garden and woke up five days later in the intensive care unit at UM St. Joseph Medical Center, totally unaware of what had happened.

Edwin Thate, center, with his familyEdwin Thate, center, with his family.

Thate had suffered heatstroke, the most serious heat-related illness. Fortunately, a neighbor
saw Thate unconscious in his garden after he’d been raking for several hours, and called 911. He was rushed by ambulance to The Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Emergency Department (ED) at UM St. Joseph Medical Center.

Upon arrival in the ED, Thate’s core body temperature was 108 degrees, says emergency physician Neal Frankel, DO, head of UM St. Joseph’s ED.

“The medics started the cooling protocol in the ambulance using ice packs,” Dr. Frankel says. In the ED, emergency physician Ben Vanlandingham, MD, continued to bring Thate’s body temperature down with a cooling blanket.

Getting Treatment Fast Is Key

“Time was of the essence. Mr. Thate was in danger of multi-organ failure, brain damage or even death,” says Dr. Frankel. “We gave him Tylenol, fluids and broad-spectrum antibiotics to cover him for all possibilities until we were sure of what had happened to him.” A breathing tube was inserted into his windpipe to stabilize his breathing.

“It was a very traumatic experience. It was shocking and unexpected,” says Thate’s wife, Deborah. Fortunately, the cooling protocol was a success. “His recovery was miraculous—we had a lot of people praying for him,” she adds.

What is Heatstroke?

The official definition of heatstroke is a core body temperature higher than 105 degrees. Heatstroke is more likely to occur in someone older than age 50, although it can also happen to younger people who overexert themselves. If the body is unable to cool down, heatstroke can be fatal.

Underlying health problems and prescription medicines that compromise the body’s ability to cool itself can put a person at greater risk of heatstroke, according to Dr. Frankel. Thate has a muscle disorder for which he is on antispasmodic medication.

“There are hundreds of medicines that decrease the body’s ability to acclimate to the heat,” Dr. Frankel says. “They include ones as common as betablockers, cholesterol medicine, pain medicine, seizure medication, antihistamines, diet pills and antidepressants. These medications dilate the blood vessels and don’t allow the body to cool itself normally by breathing faster and sweating.”

The risk of heat-related illness increases when the heat index is above 90 degrees. If you think someone is having heatstroke, call 911 immediately, advises Dr. Frankel, and get the person into the shade and begin cooling him or her down with cool water and ice packs.

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