ALIVE AGAIN AF­TER 101 MIN­UTES

This photo shouldn’t re­ally ex­ist. Tod­dler Gardell Martin was feared drowned – but then he was brought back to life

World of Knowledge (Australia) - - Amazing Photo -

Early March: as usual, two-year-old Gardell Martin is play­ing with his sib­lings next to the stream bor­der­ing the fam­ily’s prop­erty in Penn­syl­va­nia. But melt­wa­ter has turned the bab­bling brook into a rag­ing torrent. Gardell ac­ci­den­tally slips into the ice-cold wa­ter and is quickly swept away – out of sight and out of reach of his broth­ers and sis­ters. When a neigh­bour finds the boy 200 me­tres down­stream, 35 min­utes have passed: he’s freez­ing, doesn’t have a pulse and isn’t breath­ing. A para­medic ar­rives and tries to re­sus­ci­tate him, but there’s lit­tle hope. Af­ter more than 30 min­utes in the wa­ter, the chance that the tod­dler is still alive is next to zero.

When Gardell fi­nally ar­rives at the pae­di­atric wing of the Geisinger Med­i­cal Cen­tre in Danville, USA, Dr Frank Maf­fei declares him to have been clin­i­cally dead for an hour. The tod­dler is in cardiac ar­rest: his brain still shows signs of life, but the other or­gans are no longer being sup­plied with oxy­gen. Nor­mally, a per­son can sur­vive in this state for just five min­utes. Gardell has al­ready hov­ered in this grey area be­tween life and death for more than an hour. But Dr Maf­fei didn’t give up hope: although all of the mon­i­tors – and per­ceived med­i­cal wis­dom – in­di­cated that a re­sus­ci­ta­tion at­tempt was fu­tile, he per­se­vered. “I never felt hope­less,” says Dr Maf­fei. “I thought, ‘we’ve still got a shot to save him.’” Af­ter 100 min­utes, Gardell was de­fy­ing logic and the laws of med­i­cal sci­ence.

Sud­denly, there’s a beep. A heart­beat! A sign of life! “I can feel a pulse in his femoral artery!” says Dr Maf­fei. The first mir­a­cle – al­beit only a tan­ta­lis­ing flicker. Gardell’s heart is pump­ing oxy­gen through his small, pale body. But the doc­tors aren’t cel­e­brat­ing just yet. “It’s far too early to tell the par­ents,” the doc­tor continues. The brain, heart and kid­neys are ex­tremely sen­si­tive to long in­ter­rup­tions to their oxy­gen sup­ply. It’s likely that Gardell will have se­vere men­tal and phys­i­cal dis­abil­i­ties. That said, who knows what will hap­pen next: the boy passed beyond the lim­its of med­i­cal knowl­edge a long time ago.

Sur­pris­ingly, the ex­treme cold­ness of the wa­ter ac­tu­ally helped. “Hy­pother­mia im­parts a de­gree of pro­tec­tion from the detri­men­tal ef­fects of low blood flow and low oxy­gen,” ex­plains Dr Maf­fei. It set off the brain’s sur­vival mech­a­nism: the low tem­per­a­ture forces the metabolism to shut down, mean­ing the brain can sur­vive on just 30% of its nor­mal oxy­gen sup­ply. That’s how he sur­vived for 35 min­utes. The CPR and warm­ing of the body then al­lowed the cir­cu­la­tion to be main­tained un­til the doc­tors felt a heart­beat and Gardell opened his eyes. “In my 23 years I have not seen an hour and 41 min­utes come back to this de­gree of neu­ro­log­i­cal re­cov­ery,” says Dr Maf­fei. Against all the odds, Gardell is now a per­fectly healthy kid.

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