DULUTH, Minn. – A 64-year-old woman whose heart stopped beating and body temperature dropped to a dangerous 60 degrees after she was stuck in the cold for hours has survived — and her recovery amazed doctors.
Janice Goodger slipped in snow on the afternoon of Dec. 27 and wasn't found until hours later. She was taken to St. Luke's hospital, but was near death. One emergency room doctor said her body was as cold as he's seen.
"She was ice cold," Dr. Chris Delp said. "She felt, literally, like a corpse." He said it appeared she couldn't possibly survive.
But days later, she went home and seems to be doing fine.
"I don't feel any different, except I can't yell anymore," Goodger said.
Goodger, who has rheumatoid arthritis, was caring for her daughter's dog on Dec. 27 when she slipped on a patch of snow and fell in her daughter's back yard.
Goodger's stiff joints kept her from getting up. She scooted on the ground toward her car, but couldn't get in. So, she wrapped a long scarf around her legs, pulled her coat around her body, and waited as it got dark.
It was about 20 degrees that afternoon, and the temperature dropped as night fell. Goodger was in the wet snow and continued to grow colder and wetter.
She said she thought, "Well, God, it's up to you" and waited. She then went unconscious.
Goodger's daughter came home and found her about 9 p.m. She was still breathing, and her heart was barely beating.
"When a heart gets that cold, the electrical activity is so fragile, that anything you do will just stop it," Delp said.
Hypothermia-induced cardiac arrest is fairly rare, said Dave Johnson, operations manager for Gold Cross Ambulance of Duluth and Superior. Still, he said, simply moving a severely hypothermic person can cause cardiac arrest.
Delp praised paramedics and Duluth Fire Department crews on the scene for recognizing that. The heart muscle must be warmed before it can start beating again, Delp said. Shocking a chilled heart, or using cardiac drugs, won't help.
Once in the St. Luke's emergency room, doctors worked to warm up Goodger.
Doctors set up heated IV drips and a machine to pump heated air into her body. After about 20 minutes in the ER, Goodger was taken to the operating room, where cardiothoracic surgeon Dr. Mary Boylan used a machine to drain Goodger's blood from her cold body, warm it up, and pump it back in.
Emergency responders did CPR for at least an hour before Goodger was warm enough, Delp said.
When the time was right, surgeons shocked the muscle, and it began beating normally.
From there, Goodger's recovery was quick.
Goodger said the first thing she remembers afterward is her daughter whispering to her on Dec. 28.
"She said, 'You can go and see your sister in heaven, or you can stay and watch your grandchildren grow up,"' Goodger said.
Soon, Goodger was sitting up in her hospital bed and licking an orange Popsicle to soothe her throat.
"I went and visited her the next day, and they had already taken her off the breathing machine," Delp said. "I did not expect her to be able to talk to me; my jaw hit the floor when she smiled at me."
Delp said "everything came together perfectly" to help Goodger recover — and everyone involved did the right things to keep her alive.