Sun 29 Feb 2004
'Miracle' boys defy death under the ice


TWO boys who were clinically dead for more than an hour after falling through ice into a frozen lake in Austria have been brought back to life.

The brothers, Andreas, seven, and Christopher, nine, were under the icy water of the Schillerwasse near Vienna for at least half an hour until they were found by fire brigade divers.

Both of them had stopped breathing and their hearts had stopped.

Despite little hope that either could be saved, rescuers tried to revive them and after working for 30 minutes heard a faint heartbeat coming from Andreas. Half an hour later Christopher also started to show signs of life.

After nearly a month in a coma, Andreas has recovered fully and Christopher is well on the way to regaining his health. Andreas has been told he can go home in the next eight to 10 days after doctors observed him walking, speaking, eating and doing schoolwork with no signs at all of his ordeal.

Dr Arnold Pollak, head of the paediatric clinic at the Vienna General Hospital, said: "Andreas’ recovery happened so quickly it borders on a miracle.

"The fact that the boys were so cold as they lay at the bottom of the lake was what made all the difference,"

"The freezing water cooled their body temperature down so much that they went into a state of almost suspended animation. The cold considerably reduces the need for oxygen, therefore slowing their metabolism.

"A healthy person with a normal body temperature can only survive for up to five minutes without oxygen, but Andreas and Christopher were in cardiac arrest for more than an hour and an hour-and-a-half respectively."

The accident happened on Saturday, January 31, when the two boys disobeyed their parents’ instructions to stay in the garden and sneaked out to catch a bus to the frozen water of an oxbow lake created by the River Danube.

The warmer weather that had preceded the weekend had thinned the ice and the two boys plunged into the icy water.

They were quickly dragged to the bottom and drowned by the weight of their water-logged winter clothes.

Their friends saw the pair sink under the water but were terrified at the trouble they would get into for ignoring warnings not to leave home and ran off without telling anyone what happened.

The alarm was raised by couple who have a small allotment nearby.

When medics arrived they thought there was little chance of resuscitating the two boys, but split into two teams to work on each lifeless body on the banks of the lake.

‘Christopher was in cardiac arrest for more than an hour’

When Andreas responded, he was immediately flown by helicopter to Vienna General, leaving medics fighting to restart the heart of his brother.

They had almost given up hope when they finally managed to get his heart beating, around an hour-and-a-half after his heart had stopped.

Gerhard Trittenwein, chief doctor of the children’s intensive care unit at the hospital where the pair were treated, said: "When Andreas arrived at the hospital his core body temperature was still only 27º Celsius, 10 degrees lower than normal.

"Usually the lowest a person’s body temperature can fall to before they die is 33 degrees.

"But it is exactly because of these cold conditions that he survived. We began to warm the boys up by one degree every hour, so that their organs could begin to work again without collapsing through stress."

Once they had reached a temperature of 35 degrees they were put on a life support machine with round-the-clock care.

At first neither could breathe without help. Doctors kept them in an artificial coma as their bodies began the slow process of repairing the damage caused while they were both clinically dead.

While Andreas will be able to leave within days, Trittenwein said it would take Christopher longer to recover fully.

Their mother Petra, who was not at home when the accident happened, only learned about what had happened from a television report. Because their friends had run off it was not until she called police after becoming concerned that the boys could be identified.

The family have asked the hospital to restrict information on both brothers including not giving out their surnames.

A spokesman for the Guinness World Records said they did not have a record for the longest amount of time spent in freezing water and surviving, but added that a Dutchman had managed to spend one hour and seven minutes in a bath filled with ice water, although his head had been out of the water.

The record for the most time underwater is claimed by American Ward Krenz, who plunged through ice on his snowmobile in 1993.

It was an hour before his friends managed to pull him from under the ice at Clear Lake in Iowa using poles with hooks on the end.

Krenz was also clinically dead by the time he was rescued, but was taken to hospital where he was hooked up to a cardiopulmonary bypass machine normally only used in open-heart surgery to warm his blood.

Although this record was never entered in the Guinness World Records - because of the difficulty in recording the exact time spent underwater - it is still regarded unofficially as the longest. He had no memory of what happened of the event and his only injury was damaged nerves in his hands from where he was pulled out using the hooks. Krenz said: "I take life a little more seriously than I used to after I got a second chance at it."

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