A teenage boy who became trapped six feet underwater in a canal in Northern Italy for 42 minutes has spoken for the first time about his recovery, which doctors say modern science is unable to explain.
The boy, named only as Michael, dived into the Naviglio Grande in Cuggiono, near Milan, on a warm spring day in April last year as he joked around with friends, but found himself unable to return to the surface.
“I was trapped with my foot under a branch,” Michael, who was 14 years old at the time of the accident, told il Corriere della Sera.
“That was the moment my 42 minutes underwater began and everything that happened after that, they’ve had to tell me.
Dr Alberto Zangrillo, who treated the teenager in hospital after he went into cardiac arrest, said “something mysterious” happened that day when doctors were able to successfully pump oxygen back into his blood stream – a technique that usually does not work if blood has stopped flowing for more than six minutes.
In fact, when Michael was freed from the canal and brought to the surface by divers from the fire service, some members of the emergency services believed it was useless to continue to try to restart his heart.
However, one paramedic continued, knowing that the cold water of the canal meant Michael’s body needed less oxygen to survive, and she was eventually able to restore a faint heartbeat. The boy was rushed to San Raffaele hospital in Milan.
There, doctors, led by Dr Zangrillo, began a technique called extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) which removes blood deprived of oxygen from the body, reinserts oxygen and pumps it back into the body, effectively performing the function of the heart.
Although there was no precedent for the technique proving effective on a patient who had been deprived of oxygen for as long as Michael had, doctors continued with ECMO for 10 days.
“Something happened beyond what could have ever been expected,” said Dr Zangrillo. “Often us doctors are forced to make the most rational choice [concerning a patient]. But in that moment we didn’t, luckily,” he said.
Michael awoke from an induced coma within a month and an MRI scan showed no signs of damage to the brain, although his right leg had to amputated below the knee due to problems with his circulation.
“As soon as I woke up I asked if Juve [Juventus football club] had played and if they could bring me a Mojito Soda,” Michael recalled. “And then I asked for news about this beautiful girl I was supposed to go out with the day I dived into the canal.”
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