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J Emerg Med. 2002 May;22(4):371-4.

Hypothermia from prolonged immersion: biophysical parameters of a survivor.

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  • 1Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine and the Cardiovascular Research Institute, University of California, San Francisco, California 94143, USA.


We report a case of survival following prolonged immersion and hypothermia. The patient survived for over 9 h in open water, after his vessel capsized and sank in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Northern California. Water temperature on the day of the sinking was 14.4 degrees C (58.0 degrees F). Although he did have adequate flotation, the patient did not wear a survival suit. On initial physical examination in the Emergency Department (ED), the patient's rectal temperature was 30.0 degrees C (86.0 degrees F). With active rewarming, his temperature returned to normal (37.0 degrees C (98.6 degrees F)) within 5 h. Body fat of the patient was 19.6%, near the 50th percentile for his age (19.0%). Surface/volume ratio of the patient (.0228 m(2)/L) was 19% smaller than a predicted average (.0282 m(2)/L). We believe that the patient's large body habitus contributed to survival and that surface/volume ratio was likely the biophysical variable most closely associated with decreased cooling.

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