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Construction worker's fate shows perils of heat

2017/08/13 20:46:04

CNA file photo

Taipei, Aug. 13 (CNA) A 59-year-old worker, who was hit by severe heatstroke that caused him to faint at a construction site last week, remembered the year as 1990 when he awoke from a coma, his doctor said Sunday, speculating that the heatstroke caused damage to his brain.

The worker fainted two hours after he reported for duty at a construction site in Taipei on Aug. 7, according to Pauling Chu (朱柏齡), head of the Center for the Prevention and Treatment of Heat Stroke of Tri-Service General Hospital.

The man was rushed to the hospital, and he was found to have a body temperature of 43.9 degrees Celsius and a coma index of 3, compared with 15 for a healthy person, Chu told CNA.

The construction worker was later diagnosed as suffering from heatstroke. He also had burn wounds on his back and limbs, which likely occurred when the man fainted and fell to the baked ground under the strong sunlight, Chu said.

His medical team sent the patient to a special ward, where three electric fans were activated, water was spread over the man's body from head to toe, and ice patches were put on his groin areas, armpits and neck.

The patient's body temperature, however, remained as high as 43.9 degrees, a point at which "the fatality rate can reach 90 percent and higher," said Chu, an expert on treating heatstroke.

After an hour of emergency treatment, the patient's temperature finally dropped to 38.5 degrees but he was still in a coma and was transferred to an intensive care ward, Chu said, noting that the man was not resuscitated until 16 hours later.

By the time he awoke, however, the patient had developed multiple organ failures and acute encephalopathy and rhabdomyolysis, a condition in which damaged skeletal muscle breaks down rapidly, according to Chu.

Chu said he feared the patient has suffered brain damage because the patient has had a "dull look" and given delayed responses to questions. When he was asked what year it is, he replied 1990, Chu said, calling it a sign of brain damage.

When one's body temperature is at a high level for a long period of time, one's brain cells can be "cooked" and permanently damaged, the physician said.

The patient is now being treated in a burn ward, and he will receive cognition tests by doctors from the departments of internal medicine and psychiatry after he recovers from burn injuries, Chu said.

Temperatures in Taiwan's capital city of Taiwan have hovered at 38 degrees during the day over the past week due to a Pacific high pressure system.

(By Chang Ming-hsuan and Elizabeth Hsu)