Joan Rivers’ condition raising questions on life support

Joan Rivers’ condition raising questions on life support

1933 – 2014 Rest in Peace — 9/4/14: News of Rivers passing was announced. We send our condolences to all of her family and friends.

Comedienne Joan Rivers, who has made us laugh for years with her acrid humor and raspy voice has remained hospitalized and reliant on life support for the past week after suffering cardiac and respiratory arrest during a minor elective outpatient procedure on her vocal cords, according to published reports.

But, what does it mean to be placed on life support and why is it necessary? health enews checked in with Dr. James Doherty, director of trauma, at Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn, Ill., to explain.

“The term, ‘life support,’ refers to the use of artificial means to support functions necessary to maintain life and includes therapies as mechanical ventilation when a patient is not able to breathe adequately and dialysis when the patient’s kidneys do not work,” Dr. Doherty says. “After cardiac and respiratory arrest, it is not uncommon for a patient to require medications and machines to support the cardiovascular and respiratory systems until the patient recovers sufficiently to make such support no longer necessary.”

Many times after cardiac arrest, life support is given in conjunction with therapeutic hypothermia, a therapy that involves lowering the patient’s body temperature in order to promote recovery of the brain from any damage that may have taken place during the cardiac arrest. The goal of life support after cardiac arrest is always to support the functions that have been lost until those functions can recover as the body heals.

“Many patients recover fully and return to their previous lives with few long-term effects. Unfortunately, in some severe cases, patients may remain dependent on support measures long-term,” Doherty says.

However, when the chances for recovery are poor and the patient’s quality of life is severely compromised, families sometimes choose to withdraw life-support measures. Such a decision often relies upon the patient’s wishes as outlined in a pre-existing living will. When such a document does not exist, the decision is made on the basis of a family’s belief that their loved one would not want to be kept alive using such extreme measures with so little hope for recovery.

In some cases, the focus of care changes from aggressively supporting vital functions to making the patient as comfortable as possible and allowing him or her to die with dignity.

The actress and stand-up comedienne also is well known as host on E! Network’s Fashion Police, where she has dished about the red carpet’s worst-dressed celebrities.  Both Rivers and her daughter have appeared together in the reality TV show, Joan & Melissa: Joan Knows Best?

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  1. Lisa Parro

    A good opportunity to discuss your end-of-life wishes with your loved ones, if you haven’t already.

  2. I wish the best for Joan Rivers and her entire family.

  3. Good explanation of life support.

  4. That is an interesting story Toni. You hear the term life support so many times but most people don’t understand what it is

  5. Good to know more abouit life support and that it is not necessarily a means to an end but that there is a possiblity that you can make a full recovery. Excellent article.

  6. This is a very detailed xplanation of life support and how it intricately works. Most individuals think of life support as the end is nearing or there’s no other hope for the patient. I pray that Joan Rivers makes a full recovery & can resume keeping us entertained as she has for years!!

  7. I’ve always questioned the use of anesthetic on anyone in a non hospital setting.
    How many people must die under anesthesia not administered by Anesthesiologists or CRNA’s?

  8. Toni, a great explanation of “life support”. I can relate to this article after having experienced this situation in reference to two family members. In the end, the family had to make the same decision Melissa had to for her mother. Never an easy decision to make but a good decision for all concerned.

    Rest in peace, Joan. You will be sorely missed!

  9. I have to say I was very fortunate, I lived. I went into cardiac arrest at Kindred Healthcare ( a post acute care service provider ). I was there for simple wound care on my knee and leg. I fault them for their lack of care, which led me to blow up like a balloon. My whole body swelling and holding a tremendous amount of water that put extreme pressure on my heart.
    They revived me and I was put on life-support. I was moved shortly after, once I was stabilized. I was hospitalized for 4 month’s recovering then sent for rehab for 2 month’s. I would say that it took me 6 more month’s before I felt normal and could walk and do things, almost as before. I don’t remember the first 2 month’s at all, accept for a few flashbacks. I lost a lot of my memory and still forget a lot. I am so thankful for life-support. I thank God each and every day.

  10. Julie Nakis

    Very sad. When there is little chance of recovery, life support is beneficial to give the family just a bit more time to say goodbye and come to terms with losing a loved one.

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health enews Staff
health enews Staff

health enews staff is a group of experienced writers from our Advocate Health Care and Aurora Health Care sites, which also includes freelance or intern writers.