Newborn infant found in a freezer appears surprisingly healthy so far

April 07, 1993|By Chicago Tribune

CHICAGO -- When paramedics found her, the newborn infant, wrapped in plastic and stuffed in a freezer for hours, looked like a lifeless rag doll.

She had no vital signs, no pulse. Her purplish skin was cold and stiff.

"It looked like a dead child," said Dr. Nathan Anderson, the emergency room physician on duty at MacNeal Hospital in Berwyn on Friday when the child was brought in. There seemed little hope.

But yesterday, the infant was sucking on a bottle in the neonatal intensive-care ward of Loyola Medical Center, a seemingly normal baby ready to leave the hospital in a week. Although questions remain about her long-term prospects, doctors seem optimistic.

"So far we have a normal brain-wave test, normal brain scan; she looks great," said Dr. Jonathan Muraskas, a Loyola neonatologist.

That the baby survived her ordeal is a miracle, but not of futuristic science and medicine. No experimental techniques or equipment were used to save her.

Instead, a small team of doctors and nurses used heating lamps and warm-water baths to revive the infant from the depths of hypothermia, the physiological condition of low body temperature. A normal adult's body reading is about 98.6 degrees; the baby was a stony 61.

Doctors have a fair understanding of hypothermia and how exposure to severe, prolonged cold slowly brings the body's functions to a dead stop. If caught in time, a person can be brought back from what doctors describe as a state of suspended animation.

"I would say that's one of the lowest temperatures ever recorded for a successful resuscitation," said Dr. Julian Bailes, a neurosurgeon and hypothermia researcher at Pittsburgh's Allegheny General Hospital.

Authorities are not saying much about the baby or its mother, who lived in Berwyn with her two other small children in a large brick bungalow-style house.

The mother, whom authorities have declined to identify, has not been charged with any wrongdoing. Police and prosecutors won't release information until the Cook County state's attorney's office decides whether to file charges.

Police and paramedics found the little girl Friday morning after the mother was treated for vaginal bleeding by Dr. Anderson. He said it was obvious that she had just given birth, and he started asking her questions about where her baby was. Very shortly, a staff member was on the telephone to police.

When paramedics Scott Dreyer and Steven Gregory arrived at the house, police were already there but had not found the infant. It was Mr. Dreyer who opened the freezer.

"Inside was the garbage bag," he said. "It still felt soft."

Inside the plastic bag was a bloody towel. Inside the towel, the newborn.

"My first thought was: 'How can anybody do this?'" Mr. Gregory said. "But you really don't have time to be horrified. You've got to do your job."

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