A 24-year-old Metro Vancouver woman is extremely lucky to be alive, after she was found nearly dead in the snow by strangers who administered CPR for hours.
Squamish Search and Rescue manager John Howe said Christine 'Tink' Newman's story of incredible survival is a rare case in which a person's low body temperature enables them to be revived after their heart seemingly stops.
Newman, whose ordeal began early Tuesday morning, was still in intensive care at Vancouver General Hospital this weekend, which is where critical care physician Dr. Vinay Dhingra briefed reporters about her promising recovery so far.
"She is awake. She's alert. She's conscious. She is talking. She had a good lunch today. She is still weak and is able to get into a chair with assist ... not quite walking just yet," he said.
"Her only complaints right now are really about her fingers and her toes. She's got some numbness and some tingling in there that she kind of described as 'sparkly,' sort of a neuropathy that we're seeing right now."
A string of small miracles
"This whole event was a whole string of things that had to be perfect for this to actually happen," said her father, John Newman, on Sunday.
On Monday, Newman went snowshoeing in the Elfin Lakes area of Garibaldi Park, near Whistler, where she befriended groups of skiers and snowshoers and decided to stay in the overnight cabin.
She wasn't intending to stay the night, but the hike up had taken her longer than she thought it would and the more experienced adventurers at the shelter convinced her to stay.
At around 2 a.m. she went outside alone to use the outhouse.
She somehow got lost and disoriented, and wandered through trees and down a ridge, where she dropped her backpack along on a narrow trail and ended up falling feet-first into a tree well, about 10 or more metres off the trail.
"The teams inside the hut ... what they didn't notice was her not coming back in," Newman said.
In the morning they assumed that she had set out early back toward to the parking lot. They started to continue their climb, Newman said.
'Something had gone wrong'
Three people on skis and three on snowshoes set off together and spread out a bit along the trail.
The skier in the front, who wasn't the usual leader of the group, went a bit further out ahead and spotted the woman's distinctive backpack lying in the snow.
"They recognized at that point that ... something had gone wrong," Newman said.
The six people began a search pattern, and soon found her, in a standing position, down a tree well that was about 1.3 to 1.5 metres deep. The only thing showing was the top of her head.
One of the members with the group thought they heard a moan or a gasp.
"It would have been absolutely so easy for someone to completely miss that," Newman said.
By then, it was 9:30 a.m. She had been missing for more than seven hours.
It was difficult to pull her out in the deep snow, and it took the group a while to do it without collapsing the cone of snow and getting trapped themselves.
"These guys never gave up," he said.
'They didn't give up when they should have'
Her body was very cold. There were no vital signs. The group of six — a Calgary RCMP officer and his wife, a retired paramedic, a carpenter, an office worker and a German student — got to work.
Three people rotated doing CPR. One of them took off his shirt to try and give her his body heat through skin contact. Two people took turns giving mouth-to-mouth air.
Among them, the retired paramedic kept it all together.
"His contribution, while not so much the physical, was really very interesting. He kept a rhythm. He kept the rescuers hydrated, warm and co-ordinated," Newman said.
"These people are heroes. They didn't give up when they should have."
The team couldn't get a pulse, but was spurred by occasional signs of life: a pupil contracting in the light or a finger moving.
At one point, they had to get particularly creative.
"There's a pink froth that comes up near death ... they had to remove that to continue the CPR so they broke apart a CamelBak package and used the tube there to try and suction out some of the material," John Newman said.
And they were doing all this in deep snow.
Nowhere for a helicopter to land
Another group had been sent down the trail to get to an area with cell reception to call for help, but one of the women in the group of six had volunteered with rescue groups before and knew there was nowhere for the helicopter to land on the soft snow.
So, in between turns doing CPR, they would put on their snowshoes and pack down the snow for a landing pad.
"These people never gave up hope. They kept on with the CPR in a tight rotation," he said.
Eric Urban, one of the six rescuers, said they didn't know they would have to continue giving CPR for so long, but they were the only hope Christine had.
"Once you commit to CPR, you have kind of have to stick with it. You have to keep going," he said.
After about two hours, a search and rescue team arrived on the ground, helped pack down a firmer landing pad and took over for another two hours before the rescue helicopter had arrived.
A B.C. doctor who is a leading expert in hypothermia was in contact with search and rescue crews during that time.
He made preparations to receive her at Vancouver General and initiated special hypothermia recovery protocols when she arrived.
John Willcox, a member of Squamish Search and Rescue, said it's almost unbelievable how everything came together to save Newman.
"The stars were aligned, as far as these people being able to find the young lady," Willcox said.
"We're lucky to have the Vancouver hospitals so close that can do this kind of lifesaving treatment for severe hypothermia," he said.
Her father said everyone involved has put in such an amazing outpouring of effort and care, especially the group of six skiiers and snowshoers.
"You know, just finishing watching the Olympics last month ... if I had six gold medals to give out, these would be the people who deserve six gold medals," he said.
"They ran the marathon and they won, and the result is that a 24-year-old girl named Christine Newman is going to be alive and walking and living a very vibrant life," he said.
"She's been given another chance."