Doctors in Barcelona have managed to revive a British woman who had a six-hour cardiac arrest after developing hypothermia while hiking in the Catalan Pyrenees in freezing weather last month.
Audrey Mash said she was surprised at the attention her case had attracted and said it had not put her off hiking. “I feel like a fraud for not being back at work. I’m hoping to go back before the end of next week,” she said on Thursday.
She and her husband, Rohan Schoeman – who live in Barcelona – set out from Coma de Vaca to Núria on the morning of 3 November.
Around lunchtime, after the temperature dropped and it began to snow, Schoeman noticed that his wife was speaking oddly and becoming incoherent.
Shortly afterwards, she stopped moving and fell unconscious. He rang friends, who helped firefighters and rescuers locate them and launch a helicopter rescue operation. But bad weather delayed the rescue and by the time they reached the pair, it was 3.30pm.
“Our first assessment suggested that Audrey was in a bad way,” said one of the rescuers, Pere Serral. “We couldn’t find any vital signs and we did what we could using pre-hospital techniques.”
By that point, Mash had severe hypothermia and her body temperature had fallen to just 18C; normal body temperature is 37C. She was then taken by helicopter to the Vall d’Hebron hospital in Barcelona, which has an extracorporeal membrane oxygenation machine (Ecmo).
When connected to a patient, the Ecmo takes over the functioning of the heart and lungs, oxygenating the blood outside the body then reintroducing it, allowing both organs to rest.
The Ecmo had never been used in Spain for a resuscitation procedure. But by 9.45pm, Mash’s body temperature had risen to 30C and the doctors tried again to revive her, using a defibrillator.
Dr Eduardo Argudo said doctors at the hospital had decided to use the machine “to win some time so that her brain could receive oxygen while we treated the cause of the cardiac arrest”.
He added: “Although hypothermia was about to kill Audrey, it also saved her because her body – and above all her brain – didn’t get any worse. If she’d been in cardiac arrest for that long with a normal body temperature, we’d have been certifying her death. But we knew that the severe hypothermia meant that we had a shot at saving her thanks to the Ecmo.”
Argudo said that while hers was the longest instance of cardiac arrest survival documented in Spain, similar cases had occurred in the Alps and in Scandinavia.
Mash, who is 34, spent six days in the intensive care unit, where doctors monitored her for signs of neurological damage.
“I’m good but a little surprised by all the attention it’s got today – it must be a slow news week,” she told the Guardian on Thursday evening.
“I recovered much faster than I, or I think the doctors, expected. I was out of intensive care after six days and out of hospital six days after that. The doctors have since told me that they expected me to be in intensive care for closer to a month.”
Mash, an English teacher who has lived in Barcelona for more than two years, said she was getting back to normal and that the ordeal had not put her off hiking.
“I think my husband is a little more dubious about it than me – he has to live with the memories,” she said.
“I woke up when it was all over. I don’t think we’ll be out in any high mountain this winter. But I do hope that next spring or summer we’ll be able to go back and do some long walking and feel confident in it. I don’t want it to take away from my enjoyment of the mountains.”
Agence France-Presse contributed to this report