DALLAS, Oct. 18 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — When rescuers needed
to determine how to safely extract Chilean miners without their
fainting and suffering a potentially devastating loss of blood to
the brain, they turned to a UT Southwestern Medical Center
scientist whose expertise typically is focused on astronauts in
space, not mine workers trapped underground.
“That all 33 men made it out of the mine without fainting is
extraordinary,” Dr. Benjamin Levine, professor of internal medicine
at UT Southwestern, said of the dramatic rescue that captured
worldwide attention. “I’m glad I was able to help.”
After being contacted by NASA consultants in September, Dr.
Levine, the cardiovascular team leader for the National Space
Biomedical Research Institute, and two NASA flight surgeon
colleagues created the protocols for the men’s safe return to the
surface. Communications and a supply line were established with the
miners on Aug. 22, but relief shafts of more than 2,000 feet took
weeks to dig after the Aug. 5 collapse.
The biggest health concern as the retrieval operation commenced
was that men would faint during the long ride to the surface. The
rescue capsule wasn’t wide enough for a passenger to fall down in,
and it was feared that the heart of a miner who had fainted might
not be able to pump blood up to the brain. Without oxygen reaching
the brain, the miner could die. And the rescue trips, originally
estimated to take four hours, wound up lasting less than an hour
Ultimately, medical-science discoveries earmarked for use in the
heavens freed the miners from their earth-bound tomb.
Dr. Levine is the principal investigator of the largest outside
grant on the effects of long duration space flight on the
cardiovascular system and has done other consulting work for NASA.
He has participated in rescue clinics in the high altitudes of
Nepal and Alaska.
“Two-thirds of astronauts will faint when standing still