The thrill of the chill

By HSC Staff Writer • Published: January 11th, 2007
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

In the 1960s hit TV show “Lost in Space,” the Robinson family encounters an ancient civilization that stockpiled soldiers in freezing tubes so they could someday conquer the universe.

Believe it or not, suspended animation isn’t just the stuff of science fiction. Modern medicine is trying to suspend animation for a matter of minutes or hours.

Not even the most gifted doctor can make time stand still. But surgeons would like to stop the body’s clock, halting a dying patient’s descent long enough to perform a life-saving operation.

Doctors note accident victims often succumb to shock before arriving at the hospital. Some studies show that many who die might have lived had their wounds been repaired sooner.

In the hunt for ways to deal with such emergencies, scientists have considered hundreds of drugs, but a natural alternative may be the answer… making the body colder.

Extreme cold helps people survive in a state that would easily kill at normal temperatures. Experts cite the Falklands War, when hundreds of severely injured soldiers lay on cold battlefields before being evacuated. Many survived, in part because oxygen needs are reduced at low temperatures. And there are plenty of stories of would-be drowning victims being revived because they were submerged in cold water.

More recently, researchers have noted even mild cooling helps protect the brain and other vital organs despite critical injuries. It’s hoped the research results will have a chilling effect on future traumas.