Originally posted by Motherboard.
Matheryn Naovaratpong was two years and two months old when she didn’t wake up on the morning of April 19th, 2014. She was rushed to a hospital in Bangkok, where doctors discovered an 11 centimeter-long tumor in the left half of her brain. Matheryn—her family called her Einz for short—had ependymoblastoma, a rare form of brain cancer that afflicts the very young. The prognosis is exceedingly grim; at its highest, the five-year survival rate is 30 percent. Einz had fallen into a coma.
In that first surgery, doctors extracted half the tumor and drilled through Einz’s skull to relieve the pressure on her brain. After it was over, they told her parents, both of whom are PhD-holding scientists, that she would probably never awaken. Even if she did, they said, the cancer was incurable—the hospital advised them to take Matheryn off life support.
“But in a week,” Dr. Sahatorn Naovaratpong told me in an email, “Einz woke up and regained her 2 years’ consciousness, she responded to stimulation, and surprised everyone. Einz represents the worth of Life.” Sahatorn is Matheryn’s father. (He spoke to me via email through his sister Dararat, who translated the messages.)
The event inspired the family to push on with treatment. “We decided to fight against this cancer,” Sahatorn told me. “We may not beat it, but her life can lead to a further step of mankind to overcome cancer in the future.”
Over the next year, the two-year-old would receive 12 brain surgeries, 20 chemotherapy treatments, and 20 radiation therapy sessions. Einz lost 80 percent of her left brain, essentially paralyzing the right side of her body. There were moments of great hope and pitched sorrow; Sahatorn described the period as an emotional roller coaster.
“[W]e noticed a power struggling for life in her beautiful round eyes,” he said. “Finally, Einz was able to stand up on her feet again and could see with both eyes, as if she had survived from brain cancer. Couldn’t help wishing she could be back to her normal childhood even with only a single right brain.”
She regained her vision, the ability to stand, and, with therapy, began moving some parts of the right side of her body. She outlasted other patients in the treatment ward, according to Sahatorn. Many ependymoblastoma victims perish before they turn two.
The Naovaratpong family began doing social media outreach to raise awareness of childhood cancer, and started a genetic cancer research foundation. “Let Einz be the first to guide us,” was their motto, Sahatorn said.
But in November 2014, the cancer spread across Matheryn’s brain, and finally paralyzed her face and muscles.
“We realized it was the end,” Sahatorn said. “We had to prepare to say goodbye.” On January 8th, 2015, Matheryn was released from the hospital. She was fully conscious.
“Among family and relatives, we played and held her before we relieved her from the life support system, released her heavy load off her shoulder at 18:18,” Sahatorn told me. The “cancer cells and other cells from her body have been kept for further study.”
“Her body has been cryopreserved in Arizona awaiting coming technology,” he said.
This year, Matheryn Naovaratpong became the youngest person to be cryogenically frozen and preserved for future revival.
“Prior to her, the youngest we had done was a 21-year-old female,” said Aaron Drake, the Medical Response Director at the Alcor Life Extension Foundation. “It ranges all the way up to 102, the oldest person we’ve preserved.”
Alcor is one of the largest organizations that practices cryonics, the act of preserving humans and mammals in a freezing “biostasis” for later resuscitation. Alcor’s chief mission objectives are as follows: “Maintain the current patients in biostasis. Place current and future members into biostasis (when and if needed). Eventually restore to health and reintegrate into society all patients in Alcor’s care.” For a fee, Alcor claims to be able to preserve the bodies that have deteriorated beyond modern medicine’s ability to help, until the day that science and biotech might improve enough to restore them.
Over the years, Alcor’s physicians and technicians have performed over 130 cryopreservations. Matheryn is their latest patient.
As a whole, the field of cryonics has been undergoing something of a renaissance. In the last decade, an open letter declaring cryonics “a legitimate science-based endeavor” has collected 63 signatures from doctors and researchers, the practice has become a core plank of the transhumanist movement, and its key players have crept steadily closer to the mainstream spotlight. Cryonics has earned high-profile supporters; baseball legend Ted Williams was famously frozen by Alcor.
In the process, the company has contended with accusations of impropriety—in an exposé book and an interview with ABC, an ex-Alcor employee claimed that the company used a chisel and a hammer to remove one patient’s head, and that it may have administered a lethal drug dose to a still-living member. Alcor denies the allegations, and filed a lawsuit against the employee.
The major cryonics organizations are still based solely in the US (the Cryonics Institute, for instance, is probably Alcor’s largest “competitor”). Besides Alcor’s UK chapter, the only other serious international operation is a fledgling Russian outfit, KrioRus. But due to renewed interest and the expanding reach of social media, word has spread far abroad.
“The family learned about Alcor on the internet,” Marji Klima, a spokesperson for Alcor told me. “They were both doctors. After they did 11 surgeries, when they realized that she wasn’t going to be able to pull through, they contacted us.”
Alcor agreed to accept Matheryn as a patient, and enrolled her as a member. The initial plan was to fly Einz to the United States while she was still alive, so Alcor’s team could perform the procedure domestically. That procedure is complex and highly invasive; the BBC calls it “intense.”
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