The world rejoiced when rescuers succeeded in getting all 12 boys and their soccer coach safely out of a flooded cave system in Thailand after more than two weeks, but while they are now in the hospital, it could still be a long road to recovery.
“There's just a lot of difficulty getting out of that situation. It's a beautiful miracle,” said Keith Van Meter, LSU Health Sciences Chief of Emergency Medicine, who works extensively with dive accidents. “The commercial divers here in the Gulf will tell you - the ones that have had entrapment - that it is an extremely forlorn situation."
While the evacuation of the cave is a triumph, there is still potential danger for The Wild Boars team.
“The stress of just being trapped," he said. "The unknowns, the darkness - that would be very hard on an immune system.”
Stress, dehydration and malnutrition leave the team susceptible to other illnesses.
“Also the microbes that could be in a cave. The cave definitely has the potential to have bats. Bats have to go to the bathroom and in some of the droppings there are very bad organisms,” according to Van Meter.
He says bats can also carry rabies and caves foster a fungus called histoplasmosis that causes sickness as well. It would also be easier for a viral infection to take hold.
“The incubation times or the appearance of some of these organisms probably could take as long as two or more weeks,” said Van Meter.
He also says there is a risk of infection in cuts from the sharp edges throughout the cave system.
The group seems to have managed well during their entrapment and rescue. Van Meter said, “Their esprit de corps that a team could amalgamate itself that closely together to just psychologically survive that type of experience.”
Long term experts say the psychological effects will be long lasting and could take many forms. Professor Neil Greenberg is a consultant occupational and forensic psychiatrist specializing in PTSD at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience, (IPPN.)
“In the long term, yes it could cause changes," he said. "It could cause wiring patterns and alterations, so that someone who was developing into a daredevil for instance might decide that they were going to take less risks. That's possible but we also might see the opposite, where actually someone who didn't think they could cope with situations like this would actually realize that they could, and so that might actually increase their resilience. There's a term which is called post-traumatic growth which kind of describes the fact that anything that doesn't kill us, makes us stronger."
Van Meter says they will certainly have to deal with problems in the sleep cycle as well after being immediately plunged from daylight to such a long period of darkness.