I love stories like this.
Lack of oxygen allowed frozen child to recover: Scientists
By Randy Boswell, Canwest News Service June 14, 2010
When Edmonton toddler Erika Nordby survived being frozen stiff in 2001 after wandering outside on a bitterly cold February night, the little girl's improbable recovery grabbed headlines around the world and inspired a Stompin' Tom Connors ballad about "Canada's Miracle Child."
But the higher power responsible for keeping Erika alive turns out to have been a scientific wonder called "anoxia-induced suspended animation."
A team of U.S. scientists claims to have figured out that it was, ironically, a lack of oxygen at just the right moment in her near-death experience that allowed the 13-month-old Albertan — now 10 years old — to endure the horrifying ordeal with no lasting harm. And the mystery, the researchers say, was unlocked by a miniscule worm that possesses its own marvelous abilities to survive against all odds — whether extreme cold or, as it did in 2003, the tragic disintegration of the space shuttle Columbia.
In a paper to be published next month in the journal Molecular Biology of the Cell, three experts from a Seattle-based cancer research institute describe experiments in which they repeatedly revived millimetre-long nematodes that had been placed in an oxygen-deprived deep freeze for up to 24 hours. The experiments are aimed at developing better methods to preserve human organs for transplant and new techniques to "buy time" for heart attack patients and trauma victims by cooling their bodies and slowing their metabolism until full medical treatment is available.
But the investigation, says Mark Roth, a cell biologist with the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, was partly prompted by the unexplained survival of Erika Nordby in 2001 and that of a Japanese man, Mitsutaka Uchikoshi, who suffered an extreme case of hypothermia after being stranded on a snowy mountain in 2006.
"There are many examples in the scientific literature of humans who appear frozen to death," Roth said in a summary of the team's research. "They have no heartbeat and are clinically dead. But they can be reanimated."
In the case of the Canadian girl, the researchers note, "her heart had stopped beating for two hours and her body temperature had plummeted to 61 degrees Fahrenheit (16.1 Celsius) before she was discovered, rewarmed and resuscitated."
The Seattle lab's research on the nematode, yeast and other tiny organisms demonstrated that death is all but inevitable if oxygen intake is normal up to the point when hyper-cold temperatures halt the function of major organs. But when oxygen levels are significantly reduced prior to freezing, survival rates are 66 per cent for yeast and a remarkable 97 per cent for the nematode.
We wondered if what was happening with the organisms in my laboratory was also happening in people like the toddler and the Japanese mountain climber," Roth stated. "Before they got cold did they somehow manage to decrease their oxygen consumption? Is that what protected them?" he added.
"Our work in nematodes and yeast suggests that this may be the case, and it may bring us a step closer to understanding what happens to people who appear to freeze to death but can be reanimated."
Roth and his colleagues, Kin Chan and Jesse Goldmark, believe the pre-freeze oxygen deprivation essentially shuts down cellular activity that would — if it continued under the duress of extreme cold — cause a deadly "cascade" of cell-division malfunctions. While the lack of oxygen prevents such lethal cellular activity, the simultaneous freezing puts all body functions in a seemingly lifeless state that can be carefully, gradually reversed.
"When an organism is suspended, its biological processes cannot do anything wrong," Roth concluded. "Under conditions of extreme cold, sometimes that is the correct thing to be doing. When you can't do it right, don't do it at all."
The same nematode species used in the Seattle experiments, Caenorhabditis elegans, stunned scientists in February 2003 when specimens that had been shot into space aboard the Columbia — for use in one of the many biological experiments being carried out by astronauts — were found alive in wreckage from the shuttle after it was destroyed while re-entering Earth's atmosphere. But that surprise was nothing compared to Erika's survival two years earlier, a medical sensation that captured attention around the world. The child, dressed only in a diaper, had slipped out of the bed where her mother was sleeping and crawled outside through a back door. She was found about two hours later, after a frantic search, frozen and lying face down in the snow. Her mother, Leyla, has described how — after calling an ambulance — she was afraid to hold Erika too tightly in case one of the girl's limbs broke.
In an incredible coincidence, one of the paramedics who raced to the scene — Krista Rempel — had treated another "miracle" child, two-year-old Karlee Kosolofski, who had survived being frozen in Rouleau, Sask., in February 1994. Erika's veins and bone marrow were initially too frozen to administer medication, but she was slowly warmed and revived at Stollery's Children Hospital in Edmonton.
Although she required treatment for frostbite to her hands and feet, doctors expressed amazement at the time that the girl had suffered no serious, permanent damage. In a 2008 interview, Leyla Nordby told the Edmonton Journal that Erika was a healthy, happy eight-year-old who enjoyed science projects at school. The little girl who defied death is also immortalized in the Stompin' Tom folk tune titled, simply, 'Erika Nordby.'
"They couldn't believe how it happened, this baby who froze in the snow," Connors sings in the final verse. "And how she completely recovered, was a mystery no mortal could know." No word yet on whether the legendary balladeer is searching for words to rhyme with "anoxia" or "suspended animation."
© Copyright (c) Canwest News Service
Read more: http://www.timescolonist.com/technol...#ixzz0qvBPSZC5
Erika Nordby lies in serious condition at the pediatric intensive care unit at University of Alberta Hospital in Edmonton today. She was found frozen and clinically dead in the back yard of an Edmonton home on February 24, 2001 in -24C degree temperatures after she walked out of the home, wearing only a diaper, where she had been sleeping with her mother.Photograph by: Larry Wong, Edmonton Journal.
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