Doctors say it’s a miracle a 24-year-old Calgary woman is alive and expected to make a full recovery after she spent seven hours trapped in a tree well near Whistler.
It happened at the “Wax at Elfin Lakes” shelter in Garibaldi Park on Tuesday around 2 a.m. Her parents say their daughter became disoriented, possibly due to the extreme temperatures, and fell into the tree well.
Christine Newman was not discovered by her friends until 9 a.m. and it took four of them to get her out of the tree well.
According to Newman’s parents, John and Ernestine, their daughter’s backpack had fallen near the tree well. They say that if she hadn’t accidentally dropped her backpack nearby before she went into the tree well, her friends would have never found her.
“It’s a miracle she was even found,” says Ernestine. “Otherwise she’d be thawing out in the spring. Every step of this process was flawless. Six people rotated every five minutes to do the CPR. She doesn’t even have a broken rib or a bruise.”
Christine’s friends immediately began CPR on her for three continuous hours until Search and Rescue arrived. SAR members performed CPR on her for another hour, meaning CPR was performed for four continuous hours.
It’s something doctors say saved her life.
“Had she not had the CPR, I can guarantee she wouldn’t have survived this,” says Dr. Vinay Dhingra, Critical Care Physician at Vancouver General Hospital. “As she came through, she had no signs of life, CPR was being performed. She got to the operating room and she was able to be warmed and have her heart restarted, and by the next day, her heart had fully recovered.”
A device called an ECMO was used to rapidly re-warm Christine. It takes oxygen from outside the body to heat the patient’s blood and raise their body temperature.
He says the only reason Christine was able to sustain life with that much CPR is because her core body temperature was only 18 degrees Celsius. The body is typically 37 degrees Celsius.
“All of the steps that were required, from the bystander who started the CPR, to SAR, to the communication and rapid treatment — if any of those chains had failed, it wouldn’t have gone very well for her,” says Dhingra.
Dhingra says it’s an extremely rare case.
“It’s surprising that with that degree of hypothermia and loss of vitals. These cases are reported, but there’s only a handful in the world that have ever been described with this degree of loss of vital signs,” he says.
Christine’s body heat likely helped her survive being trapped in the tree well, melting the snow around the woman.
He says she is doing well, and is able to communicate and move her fingers and toes. Her family from Calgary has also visited her in hospital.
— with files from John Daly, Global News
Video: Extended interview with Dr. Vinay Dhingra, one of the people who helped save the life of a Calgary woman who spent seven hours stuck in a tree well near Whistler, B.C.