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More Efforts Being Made To Save Underwater Survivors

December 23, 1985

BOSTON (AP) _ Encouraged by new knowledge and the survival of a 4-year-old boy who was submerged in an icy lake for 20 minutes, doctors are increasingly trying to bring young drowning victims back to life, but their success has been limited, an expert said Monday.

″There are a few lucky people who survive,″ said Dr. Charles J. McCabe, a surgeon at Massachusetts General Hospital. ″Prevention would be a whole lot better.″

On Sunday, Jeffrey Goodale, a 10-year-old boy who was underwater for two hours, died at Massachusetts General. He had been on a heart-lung machine for 34 hours but never regained consciousness.

″It would have been very unusual for that child to return,″ McCabe said. ″But you don’t hurt anybody by erring on the side of trying to preserve life.″

Throughout Sunday, doctors worked to save Jeffrey because his heartbeat and body temperature had returned to normal, said hospital spokesman Martin Bander.

Jeffrey slipped through the ice covering Lake Tashmoo near his home on Martha’s Vineyard at about 11 a.m. Saturday as he chased his dog. He was pulled from seven feet of water at 1:02 p.m.

When he arrived at Massachusetts General, the boy’s body temperature had plunged below 70 degrees and his heart was beating only a few times a minute. Surgeons performed an open-heart massage and connected him to a heart-lung machine.

But Jeffrey later died of heart failure, Bander said.

Doctors now believe that children who have survived being submerged for prolonged periods have been saved by the mammalian diving reflex, also used by whales and seals to live without breathing.

The reflex, which doctors believe humans outgrow after adolescence, changes the body’s metabolism so that all oxygen in the blood is diverted to the heart, lungs and brain. When the water is cold, the metabolism slows so much that very little oxgen is necessary to stay alive.

″We’ve learned that with the cold and the reflex, some people have survived after prolonged (resuscitation) efforts,″ McCabe said.

Doctors believe the two elements saved the life of Jimmy Tontlewicz, who was ″technically dead″ when divers pulled him from Lake Michigan on Jan. 15, 1984.

The boy was placed in a drug-induced coma to control his brain activity, and within days, he moved his arms and legs. Then he awoke and began talking. Three months later, he left the hospital.

Today, Jimmy has recovered physically, but suffers from a short attention span, hyperactivity, and some behavior and speech problems he had before the accident, according to his doctors.

″The greatest legacy of Jimmy is that if the victim is in cold water, attempts must be made to revive them,″ said Dr. Robert Tanz, who treated the boy.

But other cases have not been as successful.

- A week ago in Newark, Ohio, rescue workers pulled 9-year-old Jeremy Ghiloni from an icy pond. He had been submerged for 45 minutes. His heart was beating when he arrived at the hospital, but his body temperature was only 80 degrees. Jeremy survived for two days, but never regained consciousness. Doctors said he died from severe damage to his heart.

- Andrea Christon, 9, of Kankakee, Ill., did not show vital signs when she was pulled from a river near her home after 30 minutes under water, but doctors restored her heartbeat and blood pressure with the aid of a respirator and medication. Andrea died 20 days later in June 1984.

- A 4-year-old girl survived for one day after being pulled from a creek in Fulton, Mo., in March 1984. Shannon Wright had been under water for 15 minutes.

- The same month, 11-year-old Venus Sinclair, who had been submerged in a polluted river for 20 minutes, survived for four days before dying of heart failure.

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