A hiker who survived for six hours after her heart stopped in a snowstorm in the Spanish Pyrenees says "it's like a miracle" that she is still alive.
Audrey Schoeman, 34, a British woman who lives in Barcelona, survived what doctors have called the longest cardiac arrest in the history of Spain while hiking with her husband last month.
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“It’s an exceptional case in the world,” Dr. Eduard Argudo told reporters on Thursday at a press conference at Barcelona’s Vall d’Hebron Hospital, according to Reuters.
"It’s like a miracle except that it’s all because of the doctors,” Schoeman told Catalan broadcaster TV3.
Schoeman developed severe hypothermia that played an important role in her incredible survival because it lowered her body temperature and preserved her brain from deterioration, doctors said.
"If she had been in cardiac arrest for this long at a normal body temperature, she would be dead,'' Argudo said.
In a recent case in New Jersey, doctors used hypothermia to prevent brain damage after a 23-year-old man's heart stopped for 12 minutes during an indoor soccer game before paramedics shocked him back to life.
Doctors employed a cooling technique called therapeutic hypothermia, lowering his body temperature to about 91.4 degrees for 24 hours to cool his brain and prevent and further damage.
The cooling of Schoeman's body helped save her after her husband said he was unable to detect a pulse or heartbeat when she fell unconscious on the mountain.
Her body temperature had dropped to 64 degrees Fahrenheit, more than 30 degrees below normal (98.6), when rescuers reached her two hours after her husband called for help, according to Reuters.
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"She looked as though she was dead," Argudo said in a statement. "But we knew that, in the context of hypothermia, Audrey had a chance of surviving."
Doctors used a machine that removed her blood, infused it with oxygen and then reintroduced it into her body, according to the BBC. They restarted her heart with a defibrillator after her body temperature reached 86 degrees, six hours after rescue workers were first contacted.
Schoeman, who has no memory of the six-hour ordeal, spent 12 days in the hospital and did not suffer any serious neurological damage. She even plans to start hiking again in the spring.
"I don't want this to take away that hobby from me," she told TV3.