Boys were sedated during Thai cave rescue, doctors say

An ambulance evacuates a boy to hospital after he was rescued from the Tham Luang cave Tuesday at Khun Nam Nang Non Forest Park in Chiang Rai province, Thailand. Photo by Rungroj Yongrit/EPA-EFE

April 5 (UPI) — Twelve boys rescued last year from a Thai cave after it became flooded were given ketamine, a sedative, during the rescue, doctors said Thursday.

The drug kept the boys, aged 11 to 16, asleep for the 6 hours it took divers to wind their way through narrow passages to bring the boys to safety after 18 days trapped in the cave. The boys were put in wet suits and other diving gear, and strapped to stretchers for the journey.

Details of the efforts to rescue the boys and their medical treatment were revealed in a letter published Thursday in the New England Journal of Medicine.

“If the children wake up and panic, it was dangerous too much for the children and the cave diver,” said Chanrit Lawthaweesawat, deputy secretary-general of the Medical Association of Thailand. He is one of the authors of the letter.

Lawthaweesawat said giving the boys ketamine also served to protect them from hypothermia and “psychic trauma.”

The boys also received Xanax, an anti-anxiety medication, and atropine to steady their heart rate.

The boys, members of the Wild Boars soccer team, became trapped in Thailand’s Tham Luang Nang Non cave June 23 when flash flooding cut off the exit. Divers found the team July 2 about 2.5 miles from the mouth of the cave.

Rescuers initially planned to wait until water levels tapered before removing the boys from the cave, but declining health and low oxygen levels forced them to remove the boys through diving. The final boy left the cave July 10.

On July 5, one rescue diver, former Thai Navy SEAL Saman Kunan, died after losing consciousness underwater and stopped breathing.


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