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Originally published August 10, 2011 at 8:35 PM | Page modified August 10, 2011 at 8:40 PM

Boy's survival from near-drowning has medical explanations

It's been described as a miracle. But the survival of a 12-year-old boy pulled lifeless from the ocean near Long Beach also has some medical explanations.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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It's been described as a miracle. But the survival of a 12-year-old boy pulled lifeless from the ocean near Long Beach also has some medical explanations.

"His age protected him, significantly. And cold water protected him," said Dr. Michael Copass, medical director of the Seattle Medic One program, which provides emergency medical care in Seattle and King County.

In cold water, the body's metabolism slows and the organs need less oxygen. It's called the diving reflex and has been studied in mammals such as seals.

For reasons not well understood, Copass said, children seem to have a greater ability than adults to survive near-drownings in cold water. He said being in cold water is the "next best thing to hibernation."

Another factor may be the smaller body size, which means a child cools down faster than an adult, said Capt. Jonathan Larsen of the Seattle Fire Department.

Medical studies include cases of people surviving for 45 minutes or more in cold water, Larsen said. The colder the water, in some cases, the greater the survivability. The temperature of the Pacific Ocean near Long Beach was about 56 degrees.

"We've had some remarkable survival in Seattle," said Larsen, recalling people who lived after being underwater for more than half an hour.

Copass, who also works at Harborview Medical Center, credited medics for their work on the beach and on the way to the hospital, where a pulse for 12-year-old Charles "Dale" Ostrander finally kicked in after more than 10 minutes of resuscitation efforts.

"Somebody must have been doing bang-up CPR," Copass said.

So how do medics know when to stop trying to bring a person back to life?

"We try not to give up, particularly on children," Larsen said.

Medics and firefighters are stubborn and will not stop for at least half an hour, he said. When a person is resuscitated after a near-drowning in cold water, the brain can still completely recover.

"It seems kind of miraculous to some people," Larsen said, "but we expect that to happen."

Jeff Hodson: 206-464-2109 or jhodson@seattletimes.com

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