HALIFAX, N.S. — James Delorey, the Cape Breton boy who died in hospital after miraculously surviving two nights lost in the frozen wilderness, was remembered Tuesday as a calm and quiet child whose big brown eyes did most of the talking.
The seven-year-old succumbed to severe hypothermia less than a day after he was found unconscious about a kilometre from his home in South Bar, N.S.
Rescue officials said the little boy, who had followed the family dog into the woods on Saturday afternoon, probably clung to life by seeking shelter in the thick underbrush and huddling with the pet.
However, the cold took its toll.
James wasn’t wearing a winter coat and his vital signs were weak when he was found Monday laying in the fetal position, covered in a light dusting of snow.
It was unclear whether he ever regained consciousness.
Paul MacDonald, the principal at James’s school in nearby Sydney, said the boy couldn’t speak because he had autism, but that didn’t stop him from leaving a big impression on his teachers and fellow students.
“Even though he was non-verbal, he could show his emotions,” he said, adding that the boy loved playing with blocks and hanging out in the cafeteria.
“He had a nice way about him . . . he was very calm, like the picture they’re showing in the papers. That’s the way he was around the school. Just a nice little boy . . . he seemed content.”
MacDonald said James and his older brother arrived at Harbourside Elementary in September when the boys and their mother, Veronica Fraser, moved from Calgary to live with Fraser’s parents in South Bar.
When word spread Saturday that James had disappeared in the marshy woods that surround the town, some of his teachers joined in the search, along with hundreds of other volunteers from across the province.
And when he was found alive almost two days later, the community’s residents were almost as stunned as they were relieved.
“Yesterday, we were really hoping that things were going to work out – it seemed like it was going to be a miracle,” said MacDonald.
“That’s why it’s so tough today. The kids and the teachers are having a tough time because of that hope . . . as long as there’s hope, there’s happiness. But that was taken away pretty quickly.
“They’re pretty devastated.”
Melanie Sampson, a resident of South Bar who lives down the road from the Fraser family, said she did not see James outside very often.
“His mother never let him wander,” she said. “She could never leave him out of her sight, God love her.”
With less than three weeks to go before Christmas, the town is in mourning, Sampson said.
“It’s tough no matter what time of year it is, especially after the miracle of yesterday when he was found alive … it was such an emotional roller coaster,” she said.
A spokeswoman for the IWK Health Centre delivered the sad news Tuesday morning.
Jocelyn Vine, vice-president of patient care, read the following statement from the boy’s mother:
“The family would like to thank everyone involved in James’s care. It was amazing to see how everyone would come together. It really kept my hopes alive. We will have more to say later, after we’ve had some time.”
The boy’s family was with him when he died, Vine said.
Dr. Brian Norman, the doctor who treated James, would not discuss the specific care he received when he arrived at the hospital’s pediatric intensive care unit Monday at 5:20 p.m.
But he said severely hypothermic patients are sometime hooked up to a heart-lung machine if their heart stops. The machine warms and oxygenates the blood, then recirculates it through the body.
The physician said treating critically ill children is always difficult, especially for the nurses and doctors who have children of their own.
“Whenever you see something like this, it always has some effect on you.”
Severe hypothermia occurs when the body’s core temperature drops below 29 C. A normal body temperature is 37 C.
While there have been several high-profile cases of severely hypothermic children being resuscitated, most cases usually result in serious damage to internal organs.
Typically, hypothermic patients are slowly warmed up using blankets and warm intravenous fluids.
Another method involves using a mask or breathing tube that gives the patient warm, humidified oxygen, according to the renowned Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.
In some cases, doctors use a technique known as cavity lavage, which involves injecting warm salt water into the stomach, bladder and colon.
Blair Doyle, director for the Halifax search and rescue team, described the search effort as a “bit of a mission impossible” because a storm moved into the region on the weekend, blanketing the area in heavy, wet snow.
As well, searchers were told the boy probably wouldn’t respond to their calls, which is why some were heard in the woods promising the boy his favourite food – pizza – and encouraging him to “come see Mummy.”
Doyle said rescuers followed the dog’s tracks directly to James.
“There was an impression in the ground next to him where the dog had obviously been,” he told a news conference.
“We’re glad that we did the job we did, but we feel saddened for the family. I think at some point he went as far as he could … and he laid down.”
The dog, a mixed-breed named Chance, emerged from the forest about two hours before the boy was found.