I’ve never been shy about admitting that I’m a bit of a nerd, and my geekiness has generally manifested itself in a love of schlocky science fiction.
One of the ideas that repeatedly crops up in those sorts of stories is cryogenics — the idea of prolonging peoples’ lives by flash freezing them in super-cold substances such as liquid nitrogen.
In the past, I’ve dismissed the idea as little more than wishful thinking. Get people cold enough to preserve their tissues for the long haul, and they’re basically just dead, right?
Maybe not. The misadventures of a 53-year-old man near Béziers, France, have shown that there might be some merit to the idea of extreme cold saving lives.
On March 12, the unnamed man was making his way back from his brother’s house on foot when the worst happened: He had a heart attack.
Statistics show that few people who suffer heart attacks outside of a hospital setting manage to survive. But something odd happened to this individual.
When his worried family eventually found him near a river, the outside temperature had dropped to 22 degrees Fahrenheit — weather chilly enough to induce hypothermia. And that’s exactly what happened to the man after he went into cardiac arrest.
First responders massaged the man’s heart for an astonishing four hours before transporting him to Montpellier University Hospital where he was placed on a heart-lung machine.
Eighteen hours after his cardiac incident, something amazing happened.
His heart began to beat again. “The medical team was stupefied,” Dr. Jonathan Charbit, head of the intensive care unit at Montpellier University Hospital, told The Times.
“This is a textbook case. It’s also an extraordinary medical and human adventure.”
Why? Charbit said that the chances of the patient’s survival were “near to zero” — and yet somehow he pulled through.
I still doubt such discoveries will have us speeding to distant stars in the far future in cryo-capsule-equipped spaceships. But for one blessed man, his recovery must very much seem like some kind of fantastic fiction.
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