MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — She’s being called a miracle baby. Eighteen-month-old Lily Groesbeck is now in stable, but critical, condition after the car mother was driving crashed into a frigid Utah river Friday night. Lily spent 13 hours strapped in her car seat upside down before a fisherman found the wreck Saturday morning. Her mother did not survive.
Often, we hear stories about children defying the odds, whether it’s spending overnights outside in the winter or surviving several minutes submerged underwater in icy lakes.
So, are children just better at surviving the cold? Good Question.
“That’s a common myth,” said Dr. Anupam Kharbanda, Director of Research for Emergency and Trauma Services at Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota. “When they’re outside, they can become more hypothermic than adults.”
Children have a higher surface area to volume ratio compared to adults, so they cool much more quickly, making them more susceptible to hypothermia.
In Lily Groesbeck’s case, investigators say she was suspended in the air by her car seat and wasn’t touching the water.
“I think what this tells us is that car seats are very effective,” said Dr. Kharbanda. “That was likely beneficial in this case, because if it was in water, the child would have become more hypothermic more rapidly.”
Although children don’t handle the cold as well as adults, what does help them are their younger bodies.
“The difference we find with children versus adults is that they have normal heart and lung function in many respects,” said Dr. Kharbanda. “So if they do get cold, their heart and lungs will function normally and probably can recover quickly as compared to an adult who has cardiovascular disease diabetes, high cholesterol or someone who is a smoker who has asthma.”
So, does this mean children are more physiologically suited to handle car or plane accidents? Not necessarily. In fact, Dr. Kharbanda says their smaller bodies might make them more susceptible to injury. What can help children in accidents, though, is that they are often better restrained, sit in safer spots and, unlike adults, don’t mix in drugs or alcohol.
Dr. Kharbanda says we might think children are better survivors when we hear their stories on the news, but he’s mindful of the fact that trauma is the overwhelming number one killer of children.
“When a child survives falling out a window, we’re really happy and thankful, but many kids don’t,” he said. “And that’s what we really see at a trauma center like ours.”