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“When the people started going through the ice, it was just total panic. You saw people taking their belts off. It was just total chaos and out of control. We saw that poor guy, the first one to go in, it was obvious he didn’t know how to swim,” he said. “We thought that might be it. We wouldn’t see him again. Fortunately he came back up.”
Nine minutes later, the man who first fell in along with all of his would-be rescuers managed to make it out of the water.
Some Important Facts To Remember
Most persons recovered in cold water "near" drowning cases show the typical symptoms of death:
Cyanotic (blue) skin coloration
No detectable breathing
No apparent pulse or heartbeat
Pupils fully dilated (opened)
These symptoms, it was discovered, did not always mean the victim was dead. They were, on the other hand, the body's way of increasing its chances of survival through what scientists call the mammalian diving reflex. This reflex is most evident in marine mammals such as whales, seals or porpoises. In the diving reflex, blood is diverted away from the arms and legs to circulate (at the rate of only 6-8 beats per minute, in some cases) between the heart, brain and lungs. Marine mammals have developed this ability to the point where they can remain under water for extended periods of time (over 30 minutes in some species) without brain or body damage.
Humans experience the diving reflex, but it is not as pronounced as in other mammals. The factors which enhance the diving reflex in humans are:
Water temperature - less than 70 degrees or colder, the more profound the response and perhaps the more protective to the brain
Age - the younger the victim, the more active the reflex
Facial immersion - the pathways necessary for stimulating this series of responses seem to emanate from facial cold water stimulation.
The diving reflex is a protective mechanism for humans in cold water immersions, but it may confuse the rescuer into thinking the victim is dead. Resuscitative efforts for these victims should be started immediately utilizing CPR in accordance with your training.
Remember, numerous children have been brought up from freezing water after 30 minutes and been successfully resuscitated.