The 12 boys rescued from a cave in Thailand in July last year were anesthetized with ketamine, it has been revealed.
In a letter published by the New England Journal of Medicine (h/t Melissa Healy of the L.A. Times), the members of the Wild Boars soccer team, aged between 11 and 16, and their coach were given the drug to sedate them during their evacuation and help them avoid contracting hypothermia.
They were rescued from the Tham Luang Nang Nom cave between July 8 and 10, having been trapped since June 23, by being "swum out of the cave wearing poorly fitting wet suits in cold water."
The children and their coach had to be passed from one rescuer to another one at a time through a maze-like system of underwater passageways in which visibility was poor.
Saman Kunan, a former Thai Navy SEAL, had died navigating those passageways prior to the boys' rescue after delivering oxygen to the trapped team.
The team were given "unspecified doses" of "ketamine-based anesthesia" and face masks to supply them with oxygen during the rescue.
The ketamine not only helped keep the boys calm without suppressing their breathing, it also lowered the risk of hypothermia by constricting their blood vessels.
Per Healy, anesthesiologist Dr. John Rivard said: "You would get a cooperative boy who would keep breathing spontaneously during the extraction. My hat is off to the team."
Dr. Jeffrey L. Apfelbaum, also an anesthesiologist, added: "The skill set necessary to get these kids out is just unbelievable. There are countless ways, both medical and from a diving perspective, where tragedy could have occurred. By no means was any of this straightforward."