Hypothermia May Save Boy Trapped in Ice

Marcia Page

While snowboarding in a remote canyon on Oregon's Mount Hood, Marcia Page lost her bearings and soared over a 65-foot cliff, bouncing on her head off rocky outcroppings before crashing in the snow below.

The right side of Page's head caved in and all four walls of her eye socket were fractured, as well as multiple bones throughout her body. As the neonatal nurse, 43, was airlifted out with her brain hemorrhaging, she stopped breathing.

What saved her life was the 45 minutes her body lay in the snow in the cold air at 6,000 feet, as hypothermia sent her body temperature down to 90 degrees.

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Page's survival gives hope to the family of Thomas Hudson, the 6-year-old British boy who is fighting for his life after falling into a frozen pond this week. Trapped under the ice, the boy's heart and breathing stopped for 30 minutes before he was resuscitated.

"What kills you is lack of oxygen to the brain," said Dr. Martin Schreiber, a U.S. trauma surgeon who worked on the team to save Page's life in 2001 at the Oregon Health & Science University in Portland.

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"When they retrieve people under ice for a long time, even if they have no signs of life, the dictum is, 'not dead until warm dead," he told ABCNews.com. "That's how we are trained."

At normal body temperature -- 98.6 degrees –- the brain can only survive without oxygen for about five to 10 minutes, Schreiber said. But when hypothermia sets in and the body temperature cools below 95 degrees, metabolism slows and so does its need for oxygen.

As snow pummeled England this week, little Thomas wandered onto a backyard pond in the village of Crookham Common, Berkshire, and became trapped under the ice. His mother, alerted by a playmate, tried to pull him from the center of the 60-foot pond.

When firefighters finally freed the boy, paramedic Hugh Whitaker told the Sun newspaper that the boy was blue and "in a bad way." He was airlifted to John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford..

Thomas underwent an undisclosed precedure and is in critical condition, hospital spokeswoman Laura Carpenter told ABCNews.com.

His family, who have been at the boy's beside for three days, have refused interviews and asked for privacy.

The boy's doctors are hoping the icy waters may have shut down his heart and brain long enough for him to survive.

"The case is interesting," said Dr. Benajmin Abella, director of clinical research in the Center for Resuscitation Science at the University of Pennsylvania. "There have been cases reported with no breathing or blood flow for an hour."

Boy Trapped in Ice Likely Had Bypass Operation

Abella, an emergency physician who specializes in the treatment of cardiac arrest, said Thomas' treatment was likely a cardiopulmonary bypass procedure to gently re-warm his blood and organs. The bypass machine controls blood flow, giving the heart a rest.

"It's a very exciting new area of medicine by using cooling as a therapy," he said. "We have a real chance at saving people who have been previously left for dead."

Such was the case in 2004 with a Wisconsin man who was brought back from the dead on a cardiopulmonary bypass machine after he survived a cold night unconscious in a snow bank.

Like Thomas, David Samuels, 63, had no pulse for more than 30 minutes and his body temperature had dropped to 75 degrees.

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