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As extreme heat becomes more common, ERs turn to body bags to save lives

As a deadly heat wave scorched the Pacific Northwest last month, overwhelming hospital emergency rooms in a region unaccustomed to triple-digit temperatures, doctors resorted to a grim but practical tool to save lives: human body bags filled with ice and water.

Officials at hospitals in Seattle and Renton, Washington, said that as more people arrived experiencing potentially fatal heatstroke, and with cooling catheters and even ice packs in short supply, they used the novel treatment to quickly immerse and cool several elderly people.

Zipping heatstroke patients into ice-filled body bags worked so well that it could become a go-to treatment in a world increasingly altered by climate change, said Dr. Alex St. John, an emergency physician at UW Medicine’s Harborview Medical Center.

“I have a feeling that we’re looking at many more days of extreme heat in the future, and this is likely to become more common,” he said.

A disposable body bag and buckets of ice are prepared for a cold-water immersion of a patient, as shown in a case report from the Stanford University School of Medicine.Dr. Alexei Wagner / Stanford University School of Medicine

Despite the macabre connotation of body bags, using them is a cheap, convenient and scalable way to treat patients in mass casualty emergencies caused by excessive heat, said Dr. Grant Lipman, a Stanford University professor of emergency medicine. He co-authored a pioneering case study documenting the use of what doctors call “human remains pouches” for heatstroke.

“When people are this sick, you’ve got to cool them down fast,” Lipman said.

Heatstroke, the most dangerous type of heat illness, is a medical emergency that leads to death in up to a third of hospitalized patients. It occurs when the body overheats, either because of exertion in high temperatures or because of prolonged exposure to heat with no relief. The core body temperature rises to 104 degrees Fahrenheit or higher, which can damage the brain and other organs.

Heatstroke can be particularly dangerous for children and older people, whose bodies don’t regulate temperature well. In addition, elderly people may take medications that impair their ability to tolerate high temperatures.

Patients typically would be treated with strategically placed ice packs or misted with water and placed in front of huge fans. Some emergency room staffers immerse patients in large tubs of water or insert cooling catheters into the body’s large veins.

During emergencies, however, equipment, ice and time may all be in short supply.

Every hospital has body bags. Every hospital has ice machines.

St. John treated nearly two dozen heatstroke patients on June 28, the hottest period of a six-day heat wave, when temperatures in Seattle shot to a record 108 degrees. That was more than he’d seen at one time in his decade as a doctor, including working in hospitals in the Arizona desert, he said.

Similarly, UW Valley Medical Center in Renton treated more than 70 patients with heat-related illnesses, three of whom who were treated using body bags, said Dr. Cameron Buck, director of the emergency department.

“The large number who came in very quickly taxed the system,” Buck said.

Overall, nearly 2,800 emergency department visits for heat illness were logged from June 25 through June 30 in a region that includes Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Alaska, including more than 1,000 on June 28 alone, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. At least 112 deaths in Washington and 115 deaths in Oregon have been linked to the heat wave, state officials said.

Among the sickest patients St. John saw was a woman in her 70s who arrived at the Harborview ER on June 28 confused and weak, with a core body temperature of 104 degrees. A family member had discovered her ill at home. St. John said a colleague had mentioned the body bag technique just days earlier, so he gave it a try.

The treatment involves filling a body bag with a slurry of water and ice, putting the patient inside and zipping the bag just up to the armpits to allow access for medical equipment and close monitoring. The self-contained bag keeps the ice and water close to the patient’s skin.

Within several minutes of her being placed into the bag, the woman’s temperature dropped to 100.4 degrees, just enough to “get her out of that danger zone,” St. John said. She was removed from the bag, dried off and placed on a gurney, allowing her body’s natural cooling abilities to take over. After she was admitted to the hospital, she recovered fully, he said.

As the effects of climate change lead to hotter temperatures in more places — including historically temperate zones where air conditioning isn’t in wide use — using body bags to rapidly treat heat illness is a logical solution, said Lipman, who directs Stanford’s Wilderness Medicine Fellowship and runs Global Outdoor Emergency Support, which provides medical guidance for outdoor travelers.

“Every hospital has body bags. Every hospital has ice machines,” Lipman said.

He and colleagues described the treatment of an 87-year-old woman with cancer who was found unconscious in a parking lot during a heat wave in the San Francisco Bay Area, another region not accustomed to sustained high temperatures. It was July 2019, which was then designated the hottest month recorded on Earth. Using the ice- and water-filled body bags, doctors cooled her temperature from 104 degrees to 101.1 within 10 minutes. She, too, fully recovered.

Immersing patients in cold water has long been the gold standard for treating athletes with heatstroke caused by exertion, Lipman said. It’s the most efficient method because water conducts heat away from the body about 25 times faster than air.

For now, the body bag treatment has been studied mostly in younger, healthier people, and some doctors worry about the effects of cold water on older people and whether the technique might induce shivering that actually raises body temperature. Lipman agrees that further study is needed but said his experience has found that “the cooling benefits will outweigh any harm of shivering.”

And what about patients who might shudder at the thought of being zipped into body bags?

Because they’re generally so ill when they arrive and get treated so quickly, it’s “unlikely they’re aware,” Lipman said, adding: “But you’d need to ask them.”

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Pop mogul Simon Cowell was a racing flop with ‘awful’ £35,000 horse he owned with Ant and Dec – that didn’t win a penny

SIMON COWELL conquered the music world – but his foray into racing ended in disaster with an ‘awful’ £35,000 horse he owned with Ant and Dec.

The music mogul, 62, has done it all with bands like One Direction, Little Mix and solo acts Olly Murs and James Arthur, to name but a few.

Cowell owned an 'awful' £35,000 horse with Ant and Dec - but the runner didn't win a single penny in six races

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Cowell owned an ‘awful’ £35,000 horse with Ant and Dec – but the runner didn’t win a single penny in six racesCredit: PA:Press Association
Cowell remains a massive racing fan and loves Royal Ascot and the Epsom Derby

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Cowell remains a massive racing fan and loves Royal Ascot and the Epsom Derby

His Syco label – plus shows such as Britain’s Got Talent – have dominated the entertainment industry and brought him an estimated net worth of £385m.

A lover of Royal Ascot and the Epsom Derby, he looked perfectly poised to strike a knockout blow in the world of thoroughbreds.

But it turns out his runner was far from No1 in the charts – and never even finished better than fifth during a doomed six-race career.

Things looked promising at the start.

Named It’s A Yes From Me, the runner was trained with the respected James Fanshawe and sent off at 8-1 for his first race in June 2014.

But coming last of five by 13-and-a-half lengths was unfortunately about as good as it got for the gelding.

A month’s rest followed before he was sent off at 40-1 in a six-furlong sprint at Doncaster.

But there he could only manage fifth again, and it was same at Redcar the next month.

‘Dreadfully slow’

By October that year – with further finishes of sixth and tenth – It’s A Yes From Me came second-last in a one-mile race at Kempton.

One analysis of the race warned punters the horse was ‘one to tread carefully’ with.

Well, Cowell and Ant and Dec took that advice to heart as they never raced him again.

The horse was penniless from six races, never finishing high enough to recoup some of that £35,000 investment.

It’s doubtful Cowell, with hundreds of millions in the bank, lost any sleep over that.

But Ant and Dec revealed just how bad things has got with the horse during an interview last year.

Dec said of It’s A Yes From Me: “It was awful, it was a dreadfully slow horse.

“It wasn’t a racehorse it was just a horse, because it didn’t race.

“Every time we got to the BGT studio Simon would say, ‘I keep paying stable fees on this horse, but I’ve never seen it run’.”

Cowell originally wanted to name the nag after himself, but they settled on It’s A Yes From Me when they bought it in 2013.

‘It was awful’

Dec revealed its eventual fate: “I think it got rehomed.”

Of course it’s not all been bad for Cowell at the races.

He was one of the exclusive few at the Epsom Derby in June, having a great time with partner Lauren Silverman and Piers Morgan.

And two weeks later he was at Royal Ascot – where he first discovered his love of racing.

Cowell told SunSport’s Matt Chapman during a chat at Epsom: “I’ve got my son Eric with me today.

“My mum and dad years ago used to take me to Ascot and I was probably about his age – seven or eight.

Cowell with partner Lauren at Epsom earlier this year

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Cowell with partner Lauren at Epsom earlier this yearCredit: Getty
It's A Yes From Me trails behind in last during one of his six races

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It’s A Yes From Me trails behind in last during one of his six races
The music supremo tweeted about his horse's bad start... which never got much better

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The music supremo tweeted about his horse’s bad start… which never got much better

Most read in Horse Racing

“So the fact I can now bring him to the races as well is brilliant. It brings back a lot of good memories.

“Making TV shows is my passion. But racing is actually my second passion.”

He hasn’t made that passion the money-maker his music label is, but don’t rule out Cowell staging his own comeback at the track in the near future.

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Commercial content notice: Taking one of the bookmaker offers featured in this article may result in a payment to The Sun. 18+. T&Cs apply. Begambleaware.org


Remember to gamble responsibly

A responsible gambler is someone who:

  • Establishes time and monetary limits before playing
  • Only gambles with money they can afford to lose
  • Never chases their losses
  • Doesn’t gamble if they’re upset, angry or depressed
  • Gamcare – www.gamcare.org.uk
  • Gamble Aware – www.begambleaware.org

Commercial content notice: Taking one of the bookmaker offers featured in this article may result in a payment to The Sun. 18+. T&Cs apply. Begambleaware.org


Remember to gamble responsibly

A responsible gambler is someone who:

  • Establishes time and monetary limits before playing
  • Only gambles with money they can afford to lose
  • Never chases their losses
  • Doesn’t gamble if they’re upset, angry or depressed
  • Gamcare – www.gamcare.org.uk
  • Gamble Aware – www.begambleaware.org
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Minnesota wildfire doubles in size, creates its own weather

A wildfire in northeastern Minnesota more than doubled in size Tuesday, growing to more than 19,000 acres, after it produced pyrocumulous clouds that generated lightning and even raindrops, fire officials said.

The Greenwood Fire’s growth, most of which happened Monday afternoon, prompted firefighters to leave McDougal Lake, about 80 miles south-southwest of Duluth, officials said. Authorities fear that structures might have been destroyed or damaged.

“We had crews embedded, and as this fire took off, it was quite an effort to communicate with forces on the ground so they could get out,” said federal fire incident spokesman Clark McCreedy.

The pullout was a success, and no injuries were reported. However, downed trees and necessary cleanup mean crews have been unable to assess damage around the lake, McCreedy said.

In addition to the firefighter pullout, 159 dwellings were evacuated Monday, according to an update from the National Wildfire Coordinating Group. Cabins, homes and recreational sites remain under threat, the group said.

Patrick Prochaska, a Minneapolis resident who built a cabin near McDougal Lake in 2012, told NBC affiliate KARE that he watched via security camera as flames mostly bypassed his property Monday, causing minor damage.

“I was feeling very scared,” he said. “At the same time, I could see that it was not doing anything to the house, and it was kind of reassuring.”

The fire in and north of Superior National Forest has mostly performed according to the weather, fire officials said. On Monday, with dry fuel on the ground and temperatures in the high 80s, it was an expanding inferno punctuated by strobes of lightning.

“The winds were drawn into the fire from all directions,” the incident’s fire behavior analyst, Michael Locke, said in a video update Tuesday. “It created what we call pyrocumulous clouds. And really high in the atmosphere … you’d see a thunderstorm, and in fact they went high enough to produce a few sprinkles of rain and even some lightning.”

Temperatures dipped into the mid-70s Tuesday, and the blaze mellowed. “The real story was cloud cover and cooler temperatures,” McCreedy said.

More of the same, and possibly rain, was in the forecast, giving officials hope that they might be able to close the book on an unusually active and dry fire season in Minnesota.

Experts have said climate change has set the stage for extreme weather, including an increase in the frequency and intensity of wildfires in the Northern Hemisphere.

Firefighters — 426 were assigned to the Greenwood event — have been confronted with “prolonged, severe drought,” making parts of Minnesota look like the fire-prone West this summer, McCreedy said.

The Greenwood Fire, which was detected Aug. 15, is believed to have been sparked by lightning.

So far, firefighters have scored no containment, and areas including McDougal Lake, Sand Lake and the Highway 2 corridor have been under mandatory evacuation orders. The federal Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness was closed Saturday “due to active and increasing fire activity, extreme drought, limited resources,” the National Forest Service said in a notice.

Officials set a goal of Sept. 1 for full containment.

“We’re probably going to get more of that moderating weather for the rest of the week,” McCreedy said. “That opens the door for fire crews to make progress on the ground.”

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Hiker survives grizzly bear attack at Denali National Park

A tourist from Indiana was attacked and injured by a grizzly bear at Denali National Park and Preserve in Alaska on Monday night, park officials said.

The 55-year-old tourist, whose name was not released, was hiking alone in dense fog in the Thoroughfare Pass area when a mother bear and multiple cubs charged him from nearby bushes, the National Park Service said in a statement Tuesday.

He had puncture wounds to a calf, his left ribs and his left shoulder, the agency said.

The victim used bear spray that might have cut the attack short, the park service indicated. He walked 1.5 miles to a visitor’s center where “medical personnel” vacationing at Denali treated him as a park bus driver called 911, it said.

The hiker was taken to a medical center near the park before he was transferred to Fairbanks Memorial Hospital, about 120 miles away, park officials said. He was stabilized at the Fairbanks hospital, they said.

“Due to the apparent defensive nature of this attack, there are no plans to locate the bear involved,” the park service said. “Female bears with cubs are naturally defensive of their young, especially when surprised. There is no indication that this bear is unusually dangerous.”

Grizzly bears are federally protected as a threatened species in the lower 48 states. According to the National Wildlife Federation, fewer than 1,500 grizzlies are left in the lower 48, but they thrive, comparatively, in Alaska, where they have a population of about 31,000.

The backcountry area of the attack is closed for one week as a precaution, the park service said.

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