Wednesday, February 12, 2014

How Cold Can a Living Body Get?

Years ago, doctors went to extreme measures to save a woman with the lowest-ever body temperature on record. 


In May 1999, three junior doctors, Anna Bågenholm, Torvind Næsheim and Marie Falkenberg, were out skiing off-piste in the Kjolen Mountains of Northern Norway, near the town of Narvik. It was a beautiful evening, one of the first days of eternal sunshine at the start of the Arctic summer and the skiing had been good. They found themselves descending into a shaded gully called the Morkhala, a place they knew well and had a good covering of snow even late in the season. All three were expert skiers and Anna began her run confidently.

But during the descent Anna unexpectedly lost control. Torvind and Marie watched from afar as she tumbled headlong onto a thick layer of ice covering a mountain stream. Anna slid across it on her back and then fell through a hole into the water. Her head and chest became trapped beneath the frozen surface. Her clothes began to soak, their extra weight carrying her deeper, dragging her downstream with the current and further beneath the ice.

Torvind and Marie arrived at the spot just in time to grab her ski boots, stopping her from vanishing under the lip of the ice. Anna was lying face up with her mouth and nose out of the water, in an air pocket. She continued to struggle, freezing, in the Arctic stream.

None of the three could have been in any doubt about the seriousness of the situation. Anna was trapped; her clothes soaked with ice-cold water; the stream carrying heat away from her body. Even in those first minutes her core temperature was beginning to plunge. Torvind called for help on his mobile phone, explaining the life-and-death predicament to the dispatcher.

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