MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — It’s the news nobody wants to hear. Five children submerged in icy water for up to a half hour or more. Two have died, and the outlook for the other three is unclear. But for the remaining victims, their age could actually help them survive.

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“The younger you are the more the body has the ability to recover from an insult like this or an injury like this,” said Dr. Bjorn Peterson of Regions Hospital.

Peterson said most drownings aren’t from water getting into the lungs, because a piece of tissue covers the voice box to keep water out. He said a “diving reflex” helps slow down the heart rate.

“As the water gets colder it’s a protective property for the body. The cells require less energy, less oxygen, less nutrients and they can go a longer period of time without those nutrients without suffering permanent damage,” Peterson said.

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When the victim is pulled from the water they are in a state of hibernation. At Regions, they use heat lamps, warm blankets, and IVs to warm body temperature that can be as low as 75 degrees. The burn unit also contains a hydrotherapy tub.

The tub holds 500 gallons of water and can be warmed up to 104 degrees for a person suffering from hypothermia. A drowning victim can sit in the hydrotherapy tub anywhere from an hour to an hour and a half.

And CPR can continue while the person is in the tub. Peterson said situations like this are extremely difficult, but not impossible.
“If it’s been less than 60 minutes and there is ice on the water, or it’s cold water, you should still attempt resuscitation efforts and transport that person to a Level 1 trauma center,” Peterson said.

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He added that it can often take weeks before they know how much brain damage the victim has sustained.

John Lauritsen