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Woman defies medical odds after miraculous tree well rescue

Christine Newman, stuck in a Garibaldi Park tree well overnight, is in recovery after four hours of continuous CPR
Photo by Bonny Makarewicz

A Calgary woman is lucky to be alive after being stuck overnight in a Garibaldi Park tree well and receiving CPR for several hours, according to Squamish Search and Rescue (SSAR) manager John Howe.

Christine "Tink" Newman, a former skeleton athlete who has trained previously at the Whistler Sliding Centre, was found unresponsive, unconscious, hypothermic and without a pulse just after 9 a.m. on Tuesday, April 1 by two individuals who were staying at the same backcountry shelter as her, Howe said. Paramedics believe the 24-year-old, who was stuck feet-first in the tree well for over seven hours, was in or near a state of cardiac arrest at the time she was discovered.

"When she was found, and this goes to her luck, the people that found her, one was a retired paramedic, and the other was a nurse, so they were able to start effective CPR immediately," said Howe.

"If she didn't get cardiac compressions and respirations when she did, I don't want to speculate, but it would have been pretty bad."

The woman was administered CPR for an hour and a half before rescue personnel from SSAR and Pemberton Search and Rescue arrived and continued the procedure, Howe said. A defibrillator was also administered. The decision was made to fly her via Blackcomb Aviation helicopter directly to Vancouver, where she was transported by ambulance to Vancouver General Hospital at around 1:30 p.m.

The hospital is one of two critical care facilities in the region with a specialized device, called an ECMO, which was used to continue the flow of blood and oxygen to Newman's heart and lungs, Howe noted.

In all, the woman received approximately four hours of continuous CPR, and is now recovering in hospital.

Howe said Dr. Doug Brown, who has lectured extensively in the Sea to Sky on accidental hypothermia and mountain rescue protocol, believes the woman is "one of a half dozen people in medical history that have had CPR this long (and recovered)."

The circumstances leading up to the incident remain unclear, according to the information Howe has received. Newman was allegedly heard exiting the shelter at the Wax at Elfin Lakes before 2 a.m. by fellow guests who thought she was leaving to use the washroom. The next morning, the group went snowshoeing and came across her backpack located near the tree well where she was found.

"She didn't fall (head-first) into the tree well because if she had asphyxiated, then this would have been a different story," Howe explained. "She had a relatively clear airway, with no snow obstructing her airway."

Squamish Search and Rescue is in possession of Newman's snowshoes, Howe said, but was unsure if she was wearing them at the time of the incident.

Check back with Pique as more information becomes available.