She has been called a miracle baby—and the description hardly seems an exaggeration. Early on Feb. 24, 13-month-old Erika Nordby awoke, got out of the bed she was sharing with her mother, slipped through an unsecured door and wandered out into the -24° C temperature of an Edmonton winter. Some time later, a panicked Leyla Nordby, 26, who was staying at a friends house after she, Erika and another daughter were evicted from their home, found the toddler unconscious, lying face down in the snow. By then, the little girl, who had been outdoors for several hours, was frozen almost solid. After quick treatment at the scene, paramedics rushed her to Edmonton’s Stollery Children’s Health Centre, where she revived.
Erika has continued her remarkable recovery and medical staff are hopeful she will suffer only minimal damage to her fingers and toes from frostbite.
Her ordeal with hypothermia has been captivating. Strangers have swamped the hospital with gifts and get-well wishes. News media from throughout North America have lobbied Leyla Nordby, who has given only one videotaped interview, for exclusive access. Meanwhile, Alberta Children’s Services officials have cleared the single mother, four months pregnant with her sixth child, of any blame in the incident. (In addition to the two girls who live with her, her two boys, aged 13 and 7, are with their grandmother. A fifth child died as an infant from a heart condition.) Officials said the door through which Erika slipped out was difficult even for investigators to secure.
For paramedic Krista Rempel, 30, one of the first on the scene
to rescue Erika, it has been an eerie case of déjà vu. Exacdy seven years and one day earlier, she had been involved in the rescue of Karlee Kosolofski, a two-year-old who had been accidentally locked outside of her Rouleau, Sask., home for five hours in -22° C temperatures. Karlee lost her left leg, but today is an otherwise healthy nine-year-old.
Rempel, who recently moved to Edmonton from Regina, said the first emergency team to show up started CPR. Just 90 seconds later, she and her partner, Justin Mazzolini, arrived and hooked Erika to a cardiac monitor. “She had a rate of 30 beats a minute, which is very slow,” Rempel told Macleans, “Also we checked if there was a pumping action of the heart and there wasn’t. So clinically, she was dead.” Rempel said they next put a breathing tube into her trachea. They then wanted to give Erika medication and fluid, but since her veins were frozen they were unable to do so intravenously. Instead, they infused her through bone marrow. “I was holding her leg to put a needle in and it was like holding a block of ice,” Rempel recalled.
They then took Erika, whose body temperature had dropped to 16° C—far below the normal 37° C—to the hospital. There doctors and nurses had prepared a heart-lung bypass machine to help warm her blood. But before Erika was hooked up, her heart began to beat on its own. “How that
_ happened,” said Rempel, “is a
mystery to everyone right now.” The paramedic said knowing that Karlee had survived gave her hope in Erika’s case. “Anytime you are dealing with children in cardiac arrest it does something to your adrenaline, it is so disturbing,” Rempel said. “But with her, I felt a strange sense of calm. I always had in the back of my mind the incredible recovery that Karlee had from almost an identical situation.” She cautioned, however, that people should not assume that there will always be a happy ending in such cases. “Everything has to be done just right, both prehospital and at the hospital.”
As for the strange coincidence of being on hand to help save both of Canada’s miracle babies, Rempel has no explanation. “It is shocking and it has been overwhelming,” she said. “But I do feel really privileged because of the outcome of them both.”
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