When Don Smith found his son, Justin, lying in a McAdoo, Pa., snowbank on Feb. 21, 2015, after Justin had tried to walk home from a bar the night before, it was a terrible sight. "I remember holding him," the elder Smith said in tears Monday, per the Morning Call. "He was like a block of concrete." Don says his son wasn't breathing, lacked a pulse, and had limbs turned black from the cold. Doctors surmise Justin had slipped, hit his head, and blacked out, per CBS News, and he spent about 12 hours in the snow on a night that dipped to minus 4 degrees. Although ABC News says paramedics tried to revive Justin with CPR, the Morning Call notes a coroner was called and a sheet drawn over the Penn State student's head. But an ER doctor at Lehigh Valley Health Network didn't give up: He persuaded doctors to try a life-saving procedure—and thanks to that procedure, Justin, 26, was on hand with his family Monday to thank those doctors for saving his life.
That procedure is called extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, and it involves taking blood out of a person's body, warming it and pumping it with oxygen, then putting it back in. Dr. James Wu, the surgeon who did the procedure, says the freezing temps actually helped Justin. "Very low temperatures … can preserve the brain and other organ functions," he said at the news conference, per ABC. It took Justin 15 days to come out of his coma, per CBS, and he lost his toes and pinkies to frostbite, but he suffered no apparent brain damage. Dr. Gerald Coleman, the doctor who made the initial call to try the procedure, is thankful he did. "This case has taught me that sometimes you have to go with your gut, even when all logic demands otherwise," he said, per the Morning Call. As for Justin, he's trying to finish up his psych degree via online courses and his friends have a new nickname for him: Iceman. (A similar miracle out of Norway, where a woman's body temp dropped to 56.7 degrees.)