Cold water and warm blankets kept 6-year-old victim alive

An emergency room doctor says if 6-year-old Merlin St. Germain had to nearly drown in a retention pond, the boy couldn't have hoped for a better situation to save his life. (WSYX/WTTE)

COLUMBUS, OH (WSYX/WTTE) — An emergency room doctor says if 6-year-old Merlin St. Germain had to nearly drown in a retention pond, the boy couldn't have hoped for a better situation to save his life.

"The colder the water, the better," says David Schmidt, M.D., a veteran of 16 years in the Grant Medical Center emergency room. Schmidt did not treat Merlin St. Germain, but has seen dozens of drowning patients come through the hospital doors in his career.

"In cold water...the heart rate slows down, breathing stops, and all the blood flow from the arms and legs is shifted to the heart, brain and lungs," Dr. Schmidt explained on Tuesday. "Those are areas that need blood and oxygen, to allow somebody with no air to potentially survive."

Merlin St. Germain fell through thin ice on a retention pond at his mother's apartment complex early Monday morning. Despite rapid rescue attempts, the 6-year-old remained face-down in the freezing water for at least 13 minutes before he was rushed to Nationwide Children's Hospital.

Once there, Dr. Schmidt says the medical staff would have worked to very slowly warm Merlin's body back to a normal temperature, ensuring that his heart would not suffer arrhythmia or stop altogether. The most important tools in this process are simple: warm blankets and a conventional heat lamp placed high above the body.

On Tuesday afternoon, friends of the family reported that Merlin St. Germain was still in very critical condition at National Children's Hospital — but alive, thanks to the icy water that nearly killed him.

"With good help, and good quality CPR... amazing things can happen," said Dr. Schmidt.

Nationwide Children's Hospital declined to comment for this story, citing the family's wishes for privacy.

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