Physical toll on trapped soccer team may hamper Thai cave rescue

The physical toll of being confined in a waterlogged Thailand cave for two weeks may complicate the rescue of the 13 still trapped inside, medical experts warns.

CBC News medical contributor Dr. Peter Lin said malnutrition for the 12 youth soccer players and their coach — who've been trapped since June 23 when heavy rain flooded the cave — will make a dive rescue difficult.

"When you starve yourself, your body takes away and uses all the current nutrients," he said. "They have gone through their fat stores and now they are breaking down muscle … to make sugar for the body to function."

The team relied on drinking water that dripped from stalactite formations to survive, and have since been consuming high-protein liquid food after being found by rescuers.

But Lin warns they may still be too weak to swim or dive out.

"It's going to be a five-hour trek for them to get out and they have to be diving; I'm not sure if the muscles will last," he said, noting they may get tired or cramped.

Dr. Jean Romagnoli, who helped rescue 33 trapped Chilean miners in 2010, said the lack of air in the caves will likely "diminish their physical capabilities of swimming."

Romagnoli also says the miners he helped rescue were familiar with being in confined spaces, which he says is a key psychological difference to the Thai cave situation.

"We're not sure how they will respond to the stress of the confined environment," he told CBC News. "So probably … they will hyperventilate, which will bring down the breathable air amount of their air tanks faster than we think." 

With time an increasing concern, it's looking more likely that the boys and their coach will have to be led by divers through the flooded passages out to the entrance of the cave. 3:38

Lin also points to the general danger of the dive, noting how one former Navy SEAL died while making the journey.

​He says the best-case scenario is to drain the water to a manageable level and float the kids out on dinghies.

But Lin acknowledges there's no easy solution.

"So many things would have to go exactly right to get all of them out."


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