The resuscitation of 2 1/2-year-old Michelle Funk who was submerged in an icy creek for more than an hour is one of those rare cases that even the staid Journal of the American Medical Association described as a miracle !
Michelle fell into a creek swollen by runoff from the winter snow-pack near her home in Salt Lake City on June 10, 1986.
Her brother saw the accident and called their mother, who searched for Michelle for several minutes before calling the emergency phone number, 911.
Within eight minutes, rescue workers began a search and when they found no trace of the girl, they reduced the outflow from a reservoir that feeds the creek.
When rescuers finally pulled her from the water, sixty two minutes after her mother’s call, she was very cold and blue.
She had no pulse and wasn’t breathing and her recovery is considered a miracle !
Her pupils were fixed and widely dilated, as they would be with severe brain damage or death.
A monitor detected no heartbeat, and her body temperature was 66°F (19°C) degrees Celsius.
An Old Machine Brought Forth A Miracle
On arrival at the hospital, doctors began using a machine that warmed Michelle’s blood.
The technique, called, extra-corporeal rewarming, involves warming the blood as it is pumped through the heart-lung machine, and it’s most often used in open-heart surgery.
Dr. Bolte had gotten the idea to try the technique several months before the accident, when he became fascinated by accounts of extra-corporeal warming in adult victims of hypothermia.
And he made plans with heart surgeons to use the bypass machine as if he had to treat a child with severe hypothermia.
Lifeless But Not Dead
Around three hours after Michelle had fallen into the creek, she still appeared lifeless.
"Many would have declared her dead at that point",
said Dr. Howard W. Corneli, another pediatrician on the team.
"Other staff members thought Dr. Bolte was crazy".
A Vegetative State Or Not? A Big Decision!
Dr. Bolte recalled in an interview:
"We had to decide how hard to push to save her life. You don’t want to be in the position where you are creating a child that is going to end up in a vegetative state".
"One crucial factor was her temperature, measured in the hospital as low as 66 degrees Fahrenheit".
"Most important, the child was so profoundly cold. Also, we had a rough idea she had been under for about 45 minutes, the longest period from which anyone had ever recovered with their brain intact".
If it had been much longer, he said he would have stopped.
When Michelle’s parents arrived, Dr. Bolte said,
"We told them the possible scenarios and that if we rewarmed the child there was a strong likelihood that she would have significant brain damage, but everyone decided to go for it because rewarming was her only chance".
The Procedure The Hope And The Prayers For a Miracle
In the operating room, the doctors delicately inserted tubes into the narrow blood vessels of the child’s groin and connected the tubes to the machine.
It began pumping, and slowly her temperature began to rise.
When it reached 77 degrees Fahrenheit, she gasped and moments later she opened her eyes.
A few minutes later her pupils, responding to the bright lights in the operating room, narrowed, a sign of returning brain function.
Then the doctors detected a faint heart beat!
"We realized she had a shot. We were excited, but people were not giving high-fives to each other because we remained guarded".
Dr. Bolte said.
A Full Recovery
Two weeks later, she smiled when she heard her parents enter the hospital room.
After three weeks she whispered a few words, and by four weeks she used four-word phrases and sat up for ten seconds.
By the time she left the hospital, more than two months after the accident, she talked at the level of a 3-year-old and her motor skills were normal, except for a slight tremor in her hands, which later disappeared.
Could Others Survive? Take Care!
Michelle, the doctors reasoned, must have quickly become profoundly hypothermic, thus staving off significant brain damage.
But her case is no guarantee that others would have a miraculous recovery, since the factors that determine a favorable outcome in hypothermia are still not known.
Moreover, many toddlers and young children drown in swimming pools in their backyards.
Erecting fences around the swimming pools and other preventive steps would save many more lives than resuscitations with heart-lung machines.
Two Years Later
Two years after doctors in Salt Lake City revived Michelle Funk, she was bright, perky and growing up normally!
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