A 26-year-old Pennsylvania man, Justin Smith, was walking home from a local bar when he blacked out and ended up lying unconscious in the snow.
His father, Don Smith, found his son the next morning and called emergency services. When medics arrived, they thought Smith had died.
“I looked over and there was Justin laying there,” his father Don Smith said on Monday, according to Pennsylvania TV station WNEP this week.
Elaborating further and his voice shaking, the elder Smith said, “He was blue. His face—he was lifeless. I checked for a pulse. I checked for a heartbeat. There was nothing.”
— The Kansas City Star (@KCStar) January 22, 2016
“The coroner was on scene. The state police were on scene. They were doing essentially a death investigation,” said Dr. Gerald Coleman, who refused to pronounce Smith dead when his body was that cold.
“Our mind is supposed to run the show, not our hearts, because if your heart runs the show, you can run into some problems. I just kind of threw that to the wind and said, ‘No, not today,'” said Dr. Coleman.
— Fergus Walsh (@BBCFergusWalsh) January 21, 2016
The younger Smith was taken to a hospital, where doctors thought he could be revived. They ended up using a procedure that was generally used to save patients who suffered lung and heart damage via the flu or a heart attack.
“Something inside me just said, ‘I need to give this person a chance,'” Dr. Coleman told the Standard-Speaker. “This is probably going to be a futile effort,” he recalled telling the paramedic. “But I think we need to do our best for him. Okay?”
Essentially, the team performed CPR on Smith for two hours. They then transferred him to Lehigh Valley Hospital Cedar Crest near Allentown, and doctors used an ECMO machine to warm his blood.
“We knew we needed a big, big miracle,” Justin’s mom, Sissy Smith, was quoted as saying.
— Canberra Times (@canberratimes) January 21, 2016
Smith went into a coma for two weeks and was disoriented and weak. His brain was unharmed, however.
Dr. Coleman said that Smith was the coldest person known to have survived exposure-related hypothermia.
“We may have witnessed a game-changer in modern medicine—medicine moves forward in extraordinary cases,” he added. “His survival is a paradigm change in how we resuscitate and how we treat people that suffer from hypothermia.”
— Kurt Bresswein (@kurtbresswein) January 18, 2016
In the process, Smith lost his pinkies and all of his toes. Doctors still described him as a miracle.
“Things happen for a reason. This just kind of renewed the faith of why I do what I do every day,” Dr. Coleman told WNEP.
Smith is now back at Penn State and working on finishing his degree.