The seemingly miraculous revival of a newborn baby that had initially been pronounced dead and refrigerated in Israel is raising eyebrows among scientists and doctors.
Some wonder if the baby really died before being put in a morgue refrigerator for more than five hours and then apparently reviving. And though the baby has since died (possibly, again), some doctors remain baffled about whether the extreme cooling had a life-preserving effect.
"We don't know how to explain this, so when we don't know how to explain things in the medical world we call it a miracle, and this is probably what happened," hospital deputy director Moshe Daniel said, according to Reuters.
However, there could be a less divine and more scientific explanation for the recovery via refrigerator.
"There have been a number of well-documented case histories of adults and children who drowned in very cold water, even trapped under ice for hours, and were successfully revived many hours later," Alistair Jan Gunn, a professor of physiology and pediatrics at the University of Auckland in New Zealand, told LiveScience. "Of course, this is used routinely in modern cardiac bypass."
Decreasing a body's temperature can induce a state of suspended animation, where metabolism slows and the body needs less oxygen and energy to survive.
"There is some historical precedent for how this might work," said Dr. Neil Finer, chief of the University of California-San Diego's division of neonatology. "Many years ago some babies were put into ice water at birth to try to revive them. There were reports that this actually could be effective and that some children survived."
Induced hypothermia has even been studied as a treatment for various injuries, sometimes with astonishing results.
In some experiments, such as those conducted by Hasan Alam at Massachusetts General Hospital, animals such as pigs and dogs survived normally-fatal injuries and blood loss by being cooled to a state of hibernation while doctors repaired their injuries.
Cooling therapy has even shown promising results in infants with hypoxic–ischemic encephalopathy, or brain damage due to lack of oxygen, according to a 2005 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine .