BARCELONA, SPAIN – A 34-year-old British hiker was revived in Spain after a six-hour cardiac arrest brought on by severe hypothermia, with the low temperatures that made her ill also helping to save her life.
Audrey Mash’s ordeal began on Tuesday when she and her husband were hiking in the Catalan Pyrenees. As the weather took a turn for the worse, Mash, who lives in Barcelona, began experiencing trouble speaking and moving.
Mash then fell unconscious. Her husband, Rohan Schoeman, told Catalan broadcaster TV3 he thought she was dead. “I was trying to feel a pulse. … I couldn’t feel a breath, I couldn’t feel a heartbeat,” he said.
By the time rescuers reached the couple two hours later, Mash’s body temperature had dropped to 18 degrees Celsius (64 Fahrenheit). When she reached Barcelona’s Vall d’Hebron Hospital, she had no vital signs.
“She looked as though she was dead,” said her doctor, Eduard Argudo, in a statement on Thursday. “But we knew that, in the context of hypothermia, Audrey had a chance of surviving.”
Hypothermia, while also bringing her to the brink of death, had also protected her body and brain from deteriorating, he said. “If she had been in cardiac arrest for this long at a normal body temperature, she would be dead.”
Racing against time, doctors turned to a specialized machine capable of removing blood, infusing it with oxygen and reintroducing it to the patient.
Once Mash’s temperature had reached 30 degrees, doctors turned to a defibrillator. Her heart jumped back into action, some six hours after emergency services were first contacted.
Twelve days later she was released from the hospital, nearly fully recovered and with only lingering issues in the mobility and sensitivity of her hands due to the hypothermia.
“We were very worried about any neurological damage,” Argudo said, “given there are practically no cases of people who have had their heart stop for so long and been revived.”
Her doctors said she had suffered the longest documented cardiac arrest in Spain. “It’s an exceptional case in the world,” Argudo said.
Mash has no memory of those six long hours. “Amazing. It’s like a miracle except that it’s all because of the doctors,” she told TV3.
Mash said she hoped to be back hiking by the spring: “I don’t want this to take away this hobby from me.”