After battling a debilitating brain tumor, little Matheryn finally succumbed to the horrific disease at just two years of age. It was, without a doubt, a tragedy, but this girl’s parents believed they’d found an unprecedented way for their daughter to live on after death.
Matheryn Naovaratpong was born in Thailand in 2012. She seemed at first like any other healthy little toddler, but disaster struck when, at the age of just two, Einz – as she was affectionately known – was found unconscious by her parents. Naturally, the distraught family rushed Einz to hospital.
Sadly, it was there that Einz received an impossible bad prognosis. Yes, doctors had discovered that Einz had an four-inch-long tumor on one side of her brain. The toddler was suffering with ependymoblastoma, a very unusual brain cancer that targets the young.
Unfortunately, doctors weren’t optimistic after the first operation to remove the tumor. In fact, Einz fell into a coma, and her parents – both medical scientists themselves – were advised that she may never wake up. But, then, a miracle.
Amazingly, Einz regained consciousness. During the following year, however, she would have to endure another 12 operations on her brain, 20 episodes of chemotherapy and 20 rounds of radiation therapy. Then, in November 2014, she took a turn for the worse, and her parents once more had to face the fact that Einz wouldn’t survive.
This is where the Alcor Life Extension Foundation comes into it. The organization was started in 1972 in California by Fred and Linda Chamberlain. Today, though, Alcor is based in Arizona and is one of the largest cryogenics companies in the world.
Incredibly, Alcor preserves human beings after death in a form of biostasis. The company’s key objective is to “eventually restore to health and reintegrate into society all patients in Alcor’s care.” It’s certainly a big ambition.
In fact, Alcor offers two methods of preservation, as long as patients are moved to Alcor HQ as fast as possible following their deaths. Then Alcor can either suspend the whole body in liquid nitrogen, or extract the brain and preserve it in the same way.
Now frozen in time, patients, as they are known at Alcor, are kept in vacuum flasks filled with liquid nitrogen, which is replaced once a week. Interestingly, one coroner claimed Alcor had more sophisticated apparatus than at a number of medical facilities.
However, anyone interested in this artificial afterlife needs to have a healthy bank balance. After all, Alcor membership costs $770 a year and cryopreservation starts at $80,000 to remove and preserve the brain, a procedure known as a “neuro,” and rises to $200,000 for the full body freeze.
But let’s get back to Einz and her family. Sadly, on January 8, 2015, Einz finally but inevitably lost her battle with cancer. This is, though, when her parents leapt into action. Indeed, the process quickly began, as they had already agreed for Alcor to cryogenically preserve their daughter’s brain.
“The first day Einz was sick, this idea came to my mind that we should do something scientifically for her,” Einz’s father Sahatorn told the BBC. “I felt a real conflict in my heart about this idea, but I also needed to hold onto it.”
Alcor had initially hoped that Einz would be transferred to Arizona while she was still alive, but she was too ill to travel. Instead, Alcor sent Aaron Drake, its Medical Response Director, and Dr. Jose Kanshepolsky, a former neurosurgeon, out to Thailand.
Einz’s parents opted for the “neuro” procedure following her death. Therefore, she was first put on a bed of ice, and her heart was restarted. Next, her blood was drained and replaced with a sophisticated antifreeze as her body temperature was gradually reduced.
“We typically drill two holes in the skull, so we can visually see the brain,” Drake told Motherboard. “If the brain begins to contract, it shows it’s working.” Then, after a number of tests, the brain is finally removed.
In this instance, the team thought it best to leave Einz’s body intact for the journey to Arizona, so that the brain removal could be carried out at Alcor. In this way, Einz became Alcor’s 134th patient, and the youngest person to ever undergo the procedure. It’s hoped that as advances in medical technology develop, Einz can be revived and a brand new body designed to house her brain.
“As scientists we’re 100 percent confident this will happen one day – we just don’t know when,” said Einz’s dad in an interview with the BBC. “In the past we might have thought it would take 400 to 500 years, but right now we can imagine it might be possible in just 30.”
“We know we can regenerate a small organ, and grow a new heart,” Drake told Motherboard. “So at some point we would need to regenerate her entire body, or at least her organs, and put it all together. Then we’d need to transplant that brain into a new body.”
Perhaps unsurprisingly, then, Alcor appears to be growing from strength to strength. Indeed, the practice of cryogenics is at the heart of the transhumanist movement, which is drifting ever closer to the mainstream. Transhumanists believe, incidentally, the human species in today’s form does not represent our final development but rather a comparatively early phase.
That’s something Nareerat, Einz’s mother, is happy to dream of. She told Motherboard, “At least, we devoted her life and body for the progress and development of science. This is also another treat for our family – we know that she’s alive although we have been separated.”