A two-year-old girl who died from a brain tumour has been frozen – in the hope she will one day be revived by advances in science.
Matheryn Naovaratpong, from Thailand, is thought to be the youngest person ever cryogenically preserved.
After being admitted to a Bangkok hospital, tests revealed she had a 11cm tumour in the left side of her brain.
Doctors diagnosed her with ependymoblastoma, a rare form of brain cancer that afflicts the very young.
The outlook was bleak from the start – the disease has a five-year survival rate of 30 per cent.
To make matters worse, Matheryn – known to her family as Einz – had fallen into a coma.
After a months of intensive treatment, including 12 rounds of brain surgery, 20 chemotherapy treatments, and 20 radiation therapy sessions, it became clear there was little more doctors could do.
She died on January 8th this year after her parents switched off her life support machine.
By the time she passed away, she had lost 80 per cent of the left side of her brain – essentially paralysing the right side of her body.
But determined for some good to come from her death, her family have had her body cryogenically preserved – by one of the biggest providers of this service in the world.
Matheryn is currently at the Arizona-based Alcor, her brain and body frozen separately at 196C.
Her family’s main – although many would argue, far fetched – hope is that one day, science will have progressed enough to restore life to her.
Alternatively, her parents want the cells from her brain and other parts of her body to be saved, so the disease that killed her can be studied in the future.
Aside from the huge number of ‘what ifs’, there is the cost.
‘Membership’ to Alcor costs $770 a year – plus a rather more hefty $80,000 for a ‘neuro’ (the procedure Matheryn had) or £200,000 to have a full body frozen.
Alcor is also where the bodies of famous baseball player Ted Williams, as well as his son John Henry Williams, are stored.
‘It [the freezing] provides the opportunity for Matheryn to breathe again when the technology is provided and appropriate for her disease,’ said her father, who found out about the cryopreservation firm on the internet.
But as a family of doctors, they are hopeful, rather than unrealistically optimistic.
And as Matheryn’s doctor pointed out: ‘Her life was made possible by modern science in the first place – she was carried by a surrogate because her mother had lost her uterus birthing a son.’
The family also feels there are ‘still considerable frontiers left to be examined when it comes to medicine and human physiology.
‘They didn’t want their daughter’s life to end in vain,’ Aaron Drake, Alcor’s medical response director told Motherboard.
‘They’re hoping that by preserving the tissue cells of this particular cancer, they can come up with a better treatment plan, and maybe even eventually cure it. If you look at the global picture of what they’re trying to accomplish, it’s very altruistic.’
But the process of cryogenically freezing the toddler wasn’t just an emotional rollercoaster, but a logistical one, too.
In an ideal world, she would have been flown to Arizona.
But Matheryn’s health was so poor and when she ended up on a ventilator, air travel became impossible.
Instead, a doctor from Alcor flew to Thailand and, as soon as she was pronounced dead – at 6.18pm on that January evening – preservation of her body began.
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