It’s not every day that you meet someone who has had a near-death experience.
Today, we want to tell you about Anna Bågenholm, the then 29-year-old radiologist who went backcountry skiing with two of her friends in the Norwegian Kjolen Mountains in 1999.
Anna and both of her friends decided to stray into the woods to find some untouched snow, something that all great skiers and snowboarders live for. It was shortly after they decided to venture into new territory that Anna took a nasty spill--one that landed her head-first through the thick ice resting atop a frozen stream of water.
Her friends found her and attempted to pull her free from the ice that Anna was stuck in, but to no avail. Not only was the ice incredibly dense, but Anna’s gear was weighing her down and she had become lodged in the rocks lying along the stream. Anna’s situation was growing from bad to worse as the cold water continued to drag her in.
Fortunately for Anna, she was able to find a bit of breathing room, enabling her to stay awake until help would finally reach her. But, after 40 minutes had passed, Anna’s body seemed to be lifeless and unmoving. Another 40 minutes later, rescue crews arrived at the scene, but Anna’s body was almost completely frozen over with no sign of a heartbeat or breath coming from her lungs.
At this point, Anna was basically dead by all measures. She was transported via air-lift to the University Hospital of North Norway where she was received by emergency services. At this point, over 2.5 hours had gone by and Anna’s body temperature was at a never-before-seen 13.7 degrees Celsius (56.7 Fahrenheit).
"She has completely dilated pupils. She is ashen, flaxen white. She's wet. She's ice cold when I touch her skin, and she looks absolutely dead,” said Mads Gilbert, head of emergency medical services.
“On the ECG [electrocardiogram], which the doctor on the helicopter has connected her to, there is a completely flat line. Like you could have drawn it with a ruler. No signs of life whatsoever.”
But, Gilbert decided that they would not give the final word on her death before attempting to warm her body back to normal levels. His hope was that the extreme cold Anna’s brain suffered from actually preserved it somewhat, saving it from any sort of damage.
When our bodies experience extreme cold, our metabolism starts to slow down immensely, allowing the brain to survive with far less oxygen.
So, Gilbert’s team of medical professionals decided to try one last thing. They pumped all of Anna’s blood out of her body using a heart-lung machine and warmed it up before gradually circulating it back through her body. Slowly, Anna’s body temperature rose as she regained her blood.
At first, they actually noticed a few marks on the heart monitor, but all they could do was wait. It wasn’t until 4pm the following day that something truly remarkable happened. Anna’s heart was working again, pumping blood and circulating it throughout her body.
Anna was alive.
It took 12 days before Anna opened her eyes for the first time since the accident, and it would take another year before she could move or walk (because of damage to her nerves). Anna has since fully recovered and has even taken a job working for the same hospital that brought her back from the dead.
Anna’s bizarre story is something that has been etched in science-medicine history forever. The instance was made into a study that has been published in The Lancet journal and forever changed how doctors treat deaths from hypothermia.
"In a victim of very deep accidental hypothermia, nine hours of resuscitation and stabilisation led to good physical and mental recovery. This potential outcome should be borne in mind for all such victims,” reads The Lancet study.
Since Anna’s incident in 1999, the University Hospital of North Norway has saved nine out of 24 people suffering from hypothermic cardiac arrest, says a 2014 study by Dr. Gilbert.
Physiologist Kevin Fong told NPR in 2014 that “we think of death as being a moment in time, but actually, it is a process.”
Torvind Næsheim, a doctor who was skiing with Anna on that fateful day, told CNN that there are “three important things about emergency medicine, which is never give up, never give up, never give up. Because there's always hope.”
h/t Science Alert