A medical miracle was conducted at Lehigh Valley Health Network in the UK as a man was brought back to life after being almost frozen solid.
Paramedics didn’t believe Justin Smith was still alive when they arrived at the scene. Smith had gone out for a few drinks with his friends from the Tresckow Fire Company, a social hall and was returning home. Not wanting to drink and drive, he went for the same 2 mile trek he made countless times in the past. But this time was different.
Smith doesn’t recall falling and hitting his head, but doctors believe that’s what happened; his dad found him face-down in snow after one of his friends alerted him.
“Seeing him in that condition, there was no hope,” Justin’s father, Don, said, according to theStandard Speaker. Don was the one who had found his son on the side of Treskow Road. “I thought, ‘He’s, you know, dead.’”
When paramedics arrived, Smith had no pulse, no blood pressure, and he had turned blue. All hope seemed lost. But Dr. Gerald Coleman, an emergency department physician at Lehigh Valley Hospital wasn’t ready to give up on Smith.
“My clinical thought is very simple: you have to be warm to be dead,” Coleman said. “Something inside me just said,’I need to give this person a chance.”
He started CPR and didn’t give up on doing it for two hours; one of the nurses recalled he was frozen and felt like a block of concrete but they kept going. After they got to the hospital, they hooked him to an extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) machine in order to warm and supply oxygen to his blood. The machine did its job and soon after, doctors got their first victory: Smith’s heart started beating.
But Dr. Coleman was more worried about his brain. Smith had apparently been deprived of necessary oxygen for hours, and typically brain cells can’t survive without minutes of oxygen. But this case was far from typical.
“When you have very low temperature, it can preserve the brain and other organ functions,” explained Dr. James Wu of the Lehigh Valley Health Network.
With nothing else to do, they waited to see what happens when Smith wakes up – if he wakes up. Smith slipped into a coma where he remained for 15 days, but when he did woke up, everyone was stunned. He perfectly understood where he was and seemed to have no brain damage at all!
A medical miracle
“We may have witnessed a game changer in modern medicine—medicine moves forward in extraordinary cases,” he said. “His survival is a paradigm change in hoe we resuscitate and how we treat people that suffer from hypothermia.”
It was discussed theoretically that a man could be brought back from extreme hypothermia, but from what I could find, this is the first case when such an extreme hypothermia was defeated.
Sure, Smith lost all his toes and both his pinkies, but considering that he spent an entire night at temperatures way below freezing passed out, it’s extremely lucky that he survived at all. That his brain was unaffected is almost a miracle.
“This case has taught me that sometimes you have to go with your gut, even when all logic demands otherwise,” Coleman said.
Extreme cold wreaks havoc on the human body, but we’ve gotten much better at dealing with id. An article published in 2012 in the New England Journal of Medicine stated that 50 percent of hypothermia patients treated with ECMO recovered, even after extended cardiac arrest. Many hospitals still don’t have access to ECMO, but the technique is slowly becoming standardized in some areas.
Understanding hypothermia is also useful in other medical techniques. Doctors have been experimenting with a process where they replace a critical patient’s blood with a saline solution, cooling his body and nearly stopping all cellular activity. This is done either to conduct a very specific and delicate procedure, or to stall (eg in case a vital transplant is on its way).
“We are suspending life, but we don’t like to call it suspended animation because it sounds like science fiction,” said Samuel Tisherman, a surgeon at the UPMC Presbyterian Hospital, to New Scientist. “So we call it emergency preservation and resuscitation.”
As for Smith, he seems to understand just how lucky he was. His blood didn’t form crystals which would have ultimately been his doom, and this could have happened because he was drunk.
“It’s still sinking in, I guess, so it’s hard to think of it as a miracle,” Smith said. “I’m lucky. That’s all I can say.”