UVic Torch -- Spring 2003

Autumn 2003,
Volume 25, Number 1

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Survival Science
Photo courtesy of JOHN HAYWARD

Thirty years ago, studies of hypothermia helped to save lives and put the university's emerging research program on the map.

JOHN HAYWARD SETTLES IN TO TALK AFTER A MORNING OF FISHING on Juan de Fuca Strait. In past years he might have been in the water, not on it. Beginning in the 1970s, the thermal biologist became one of the leaders of pioneering research on hypothermia and its influence on the human body. His Cold Water Research Project is best known for its famous spin off, the UVic Thermofloat coat.

"I haven't looked at this for years," says Hayward, flipping through the pages of an old scrapbook. " UVic team probes cold water deaths ," reads one newspaper clipping. "$ 1.95 toy could save your life " and " World demand swells for UVic Thermofloat coat " proclaim other headlines. One article has a photo of Hayward's son sitting on the inflatable "sea seat." Another has pictures of Hayward and his collaborators floating in testing tanks.

Now retired, Hayward lives with his wife Mary and their dog in a log cabin by Elk Lake. They moved to Victoria in 1969, during one of the university's early hiring sprees. Hayward's background was in comparative physiology, looking at how different animals-mainly bats-regulate their core temperatures during hibernation.

At that time Hayward was friendly with a young professor in the physical education department, John Eckerson, whose research also involved temperature regulation. In 1971, a tragic event brought them into a professional collaboration. A good friend of Eckerson's died in a boating accident in the Juan de Fuca Strait. The coroner declared that the death was due to drowning. "It was clear to those that knew the story that drowning was secondary to the main problem, which was hypothermia," says Hayward. The two decided to use their expertise to investigate.

"In the early '70s, people didn't quite appreciate that hypothermia was a major killer. It was all 'drowning'," explains Hayward. "You wouldn't hear 'hypothermia' in 1970. Now it's all over the place, partly due to the work that we did here at UVic."

Hayward and Eckerson's first experiment measured the metabolic response of humans immersed in cold water. Using Canadian Forces boats and a team of student volunteers, the researchers connected the subjects to internal and external temperature monitors, immersed them in cold ocean water, and watched to see how quickly their core temperatures would drop. "Right away, we were able to tell people something about expected survival time," says Hayward. "After 15 or 20 minutes, you're shivering strongly like you never have before, getting stiffer in the limbs, and you think you're just about dead. But it turns out, as we showed here in the strait, that it takes 15 minutes before the core starts cooling. You can last longer than you think, and [knowing] that gives you a psychology of survival."

The results of this first study were so interesting that Hayward, Eckerson, and a third colleague, Martin Collis, began a collaboration that lasted over 20 years. Their experiments looked at survival in water of different temperatures; the effects of gender, age and body composition on survival time; the performance of different types of protective gear; and the best methods for treating a hypothermia victim.

The UVic group was not only doing groundbreaking science-the results were helping boaters. There were public lectures, newspaper articles and a series of information pamphlets to communicate findings to the public. Over the years, the team also invented and patented a series of protective devices designed to help boaters, the most widely known being the UVic Thermofloat coat. Using his knowledge of how the body loses heat, Hayward used a floater jacket from a local company and modified it with hidden features to provide more thermal protection. He added extra padding in the areas most prone to losing heat-the neck and the sides of the body. He sewed a neoprene flap inside the back of the jacket that could be turned into a pair of shorts in case of emergency, protecting the groin from heat loss and preventing cold water from flushing through the jacket. The result was an affordable coat that provided thermal protection previously unavailable to regular boaters. "Year after year, there were testimonials about people being saved by the Thermofloat coat," says Mark Pakenham, who spent 35 years with the Coast Guard's Victoria branch.

The company that manufactured the jacket, Mustang International, was just a small Vancouver sportswear company in the 1970s; today, it is a household name with 425 employees and headquarters in both Canada and the US. "It kind of put us both on the radar screen," says Dwight Davies, who is now CEO of Mustang.

Apart from bringing public awareness of basic research at UVic and saving countless lives, the Thermofloat patent brought in more money than all other university patents combined.

Hayward, who earned a gold medal from the Science Council of BC for industrial innovation, remembers it all fondly. "I started off as the bat man of Alberta, and I ended up as the cold man of BC-and more."

Survival Science | Freezing for a cause

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