Broward News

We Went Inside an Ambulance That Preserves Your Body for Cryogenic Freezing

"It’s a lot easier to cool a body from the inside-out, rather than the outside-in,” says Catherine Baldwin, CEO of Suspended Animation, a Boynton Beach company that specializes in transporting dead bodies to be cryogenically frozen and stored. Thursday night, she spoke from a podium at the Church of Perpetual Life in Hollywood, the nation’s only church dedicated to cryonic immortality.

Baldwin has short, strawberry-blond hair and wore navy-blue surgical scrubs. She was showing off her company’s cryopreservation emergency van, which, in backward fashion, is an ambulance that arrives only after you’ve died. There were roughly 30 people in attendance.

Baldwin’s company, which has existed since 2002, is a vital cog in the nation’s growing cryonics movement. People across the globe have signed up to have their bodies permanently frozen after death, hoping that one day soon, science will make it possible to revive them. Two major companies — Arizona’s Alcor Life Extension Foundation and Michigan’s Cryonics Institute — maintain massive facilities where thousands of people can stay frozen indefinitely until the technology advances. In cryonics, speed is key: The facilities are often hundreds of miles from freshly dead customers, so any second lost to transportation means more potential brain damage when you’re (maybe) brought back from a frozen grave. That, Baldwin says, is where Suspended Animation comes in.

If you sign up for the company’s services, she explained, and die in Florida, the van should arrive to your hospital or home the moment you’re declared legally dead (that is, so long as you die of a terminal illness and the team has fair warning to get in place; sudden or violent deaths are more challenging.). The back of the van rolls open like a garage door, revealing a gray, sterile operating room. A white sheet separates the driver’s seat from the surgical area. Once you’ve died, your body will be slapped on a gurney and wheeled into the tiny car.

There’s a team of surgeons inside who know they have an hour to lower your body temperature before your brain is permanently damaged. Once the gurney is wheeled in, you’ll be showered in an ice bath. The surgeons then cut open your chest and hook up your main blood vessels to a machine no larger than a boom box. It replaces your blood with chilled “organ preservation fluid,” cooling you internally faster than the ice possibly could.

“We then ship your body [with help from] funeral homes,” Baldwin says. Death certificates must be issued, as must travel permits.

Since Suspended Animation’s inception, more than 30 people have used its services. The cost varies, Baldwin says, but online estimates put it at $30,000. “But live open-heart surgery inside an ambulance, which is exactly what we do, can cost a quarter of a million dollars,” she said to the crowd. Alcor or the Cryonics Institute then charge about $80,000 to store just your head or $200,000 to store your whole body indefinitely. Several life-insurance companies offer policies for these services.

When you’re being shipped off, a Suspended Animation employee travels with your body the entire way. If you get there successfully, all that’s left to do is wait.
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Jerry Iannelli is a staff writer for Miami New Times. He graduated with honors from Temple University. He then earned a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University. He moved to South Florida in 2015.
Contact: Jerry Iannelli