Frozen Thai toddler: The future world will take care of her, says dad

IN A bare white room lined with shiny white tiles in Bangkok, there lies a small white cot. That was where businessman Sahatorn Naovaratpong pulled the plug on his cancer-stricken toddler in January.

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It was also where a medical team specially flown in from the United States immediately prepared her body for cryonic preservation, and eventually shipped her remains to Arizona.

Today, Matheryn Naovarat-pong's brain and central nervous system have been extracted and stored in a special low-temperature container in a facility run by the Arizona-based Alcor Life Extension Foundation.

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She was one month shy of her third birthday when she died. Now, she is Alcor's 134th and youngest "patient".

Dr Sahatorn, 42, hopes that future advances in medical technology will be able to find a cure for what killed her, and also regenerate a new body in which her brain can be implanted.

This is a distant and uncertain future for the engineering doctorate holder, even though he grew up on science fiction staples like Star Trek and Star Wars and became acquainted with the concept of cryonics from the age of 10.

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"She is my love," Dr Sahatorn says. But there are moments when doubt creeps in. "Our culture believes that the body and soul are two separate things. But in science, they're not."

It was difficult to reconcile the Buddhist belief of rebirth and reincarnation with the notion that the core of little Matheryn's memories and personality would be preserved for decades, and possibly brought back to life when her relatives no longer exist.

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In the end, they found comfort in the idea that "some things are beyond human logic". "If you try to look for the answers, it will only give you grief," he said.

Alcor's website asks members to prepare at least US$200,000 (S$270,000) to preserve their bodies. Dr Sahatorn, who manages a family-run medical equipment manufacturing business, is coy about the amount he has spent.

He would reveal only that he has donated "several million baht" (1 million baht is about S$41,750) to Mahidol University's Ramathibodi Hospital for cancer research, and that this dwarfs the amount he has spent to preserve Matheryn. "If we can decode the DNA for cancer, we can treat any kind of cancer," says Dr Sahatorn.

Asked whether he and his family would also be cryonically frozen, Dr Sahatorn said he wants to, but other relatives are undecided. He and his wife also have three sons - Matrix, 14, and twins Mach and Marh, aged two and a half.

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It has been three months since Matheryn was pronounced dead, but her cot remains in a special clean room in their family home.

It has been filled with all her favourite things - a packet of Almond Pocky biscuits, a sealed cone of jelly, and a stuffed Minnie Mouse and Hello Kitty.

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Above the cot is a blown-up picture of Matheryn, her doleful eyes gazing into the distance. Nearby is a liquid nitrogen container filled with some of Matheryn's cells for future research. This small memorial will remain for as long as he is alive, says Dr Sahatorn.

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If future technology can bring Matheryn back, what will she look like?

"She will look exactly the same," he says. "Because we will use all her cells."

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And what if her family is no longer around when she is regenerated?

"The future (world) will take care of her," he says.

The family is preparing for this eventuality by preparing videos and other mementoes to explain to the little girl who she is, and what happened in the past, if and when she wakes up from her frozen sleep in the future.

tanhy@sph.com.sg