Big Read: The icy tomb of Britain's frozen teenager

This is the final resting place of 14-year-old girl 'JS'. Photo / EPA
This is the final resting place of 14-year-old girl 'JS'. Photo / EPA

This is the final resting place of 'JS', the 14-year-old British girl who fought for the right to be frozen after her death.

Inside the 10ft high white fibre-glass vat of liquid nitrogen - pictured for the first time - her body is stored upside down, strapped to a wooden plank, wrapped in a sheet and nylon sleeping bag. Alongside her in the tank are five other bodies.

Yesterday I stood next to this frozen grave and shivers ran down my spine. This was the most surreal of cemeteries.

The girl - known only as 'patient 143' - arrived at the controversial Cryonics Institute in Clinton Township, Michigan, eight days after her death last month in Britain from a rare form of cancer.

Her 'grave' is stamped with the code HSSV-6-18 and stands inside a vast warehouse on a scruffy industrial estate on the outskirts of Detroit. She is the youngest of the 145 bodies stashed in 21 'cryostat' tanks at minus 196 C.

The bodies of 15 other Britons who believe one day they could be bought back to life are in adjoining containers.

Smaller tanks contain dogs, cats, birds, an iguana and a hamster belonging to a London woman who also plans to be frozen and stored at the institute.

The tank containing patient 143 has been sealed shut. But operations manager Andy Zawacki checks the cloudy liquid nitrogen levels daily through a peep hole.

I'm only 14 and I don't want to die but I know I'm going to. Being cryopreserved gives me a chance to be cured and woken up, even in hundreds of years' time.

Zawacki, a 50-year-old single man who inevitably plans to be frozen at the institute after his death, often sleeps in a side room instead of making the two-hour drive home.

He started as a part-time handyman here 30 years ago - when there was just one frozen body - and helped to design some of the first tanks. In the early days pets were put in alongside humans.

'We usually have six human bodies to a tank but one only has five because there's a 32st man in it and he takes up more room,' said Mr Zawacki.

'People ask if they can be frozen alongside their loved ones but we can't do that because once a tank is sealed it is sealed.'

Dogs and cats are treated exactly like humans, with their bodies being slowly cooled down in a mortuary-like 'perfusion room' before they are put into the tanks.

Mr Zawacki is not allowed to talk about patient 143 and could not say whether her family had visited the premises, which includes a room of filing cabinets full of photos, DVDs and keepsakes belonging to the people frozen there.

Meticulous records - locked in other filing cabinets - are used to identify every frozen body on the premises.

For what is technically a giant freezer, the concrete-floored building is surprisingly warm. A small domestic humidifier hums near 'patient 143' and a wall-mounted electric heater is switched on to high.

A small section of the main warehouse is given over to the office kitchen - there's a regular fridge freezer, microwave, sink and coffee pot.

Some families make yearly pilgrimages or send flowers on anniversaries. These are placed in the 'memorial room' where a large TV shows pictures of the departed on a constant loop.

There are three plastic plants, two bouquets of false flower and a fake log fire in the corner.

It was probably the only room in the warehouse that felt like a funeral parlour.

When the father of a cryogenically frozen British teenager first learned of her desperate wish for a 'second chance' at life, he sought a glimmer of hope from the US firm which would preserve her body.

When I asked if there was even a one in a million chance of my daughter being brought back to life, they could not say there was.

His daughter, 14 and dying of cancer, was at the centre of a bitter legal row between her parents over her wish to be put in a deep freeze after her death until doctors might be able to bring her back to life, so he spoke to representatives of the Cryonics Institute in Detroit, Michigan, where the girl's body is now stored.

'I believe they are selling false hope to those who are frightened of dying - taking advantage of vulnerable people,' he told The Mail on Sunday in his first full interview since the extraordinary court case came to light.

'When I asked if there was even a one in a million chance of my daughter being brought back to life, they could not say there was.'

If by some miracle cryopreserved bodies could be brought back to life in the future, he said, doctors would also have to cure his daughter's body of cancer.

Speaking in his North London solicitors' office, the grey-haired, father - in his 40s but looking older - raised his voice with anger at the firm he accuses of cashing in on her desperation.

'I think it would be doubly impossible to both bring her back from the dead and cure her cancer, and companies should not hold out some false hope,' he said.

The girl, who died of a rare form of cancer in October, wrote a poignant letter to a High Court judge asking for her body to be stored in liquid nitrogen after her death, it emerged on Friday.

She wrote: 'I'm only 14 and I don't want to die but I know I'm going to. Being cryopreserved gives me a chance to be cured and woken up, even in hundreds of years' time.'

Mr Justice Jackson granted her dying wish and the girl was 'cryopreserved' after her death on October 17 in a procedure costing her maternal grandparents £37,000.

Teen's plaintive words convinced High Court Judge Peter Jackson to grant her final wishes in what he called the first case of its kind in England and possibly the world.  Photo / AP
Teen's plaintive words convinced High Court Judge Peter Jackson to grant her final wishes in what he called the first case of its kind in England and possibly the world. Photo / AP

In a deeply emotional interview, her father:

• Doubted whether the firm pledging to freeze her for hundreds of years would in fact do so;

• Claimed he was denied direct contact with his daughter for years by her mother; l Said he tried to maintain a relationship by sending her photos of the two of them together;

• Urged people to donate to cancer charities after a relative's death, rather than spend it on cryopreservation 'which seems to have no basis in science'.

The father - who suffers from lymphoma (a form of blood cancer) himself - and at one stage was unknowingly being treated in the same London hospital as his daughter - says he only discovered his daughter had cancer from a distant relative living abroad. She was diagnosed late last year.

As he struggled with whether to grant his daughter's wish in her final months, he spoke to representatives from the Cryonics Institute, 'but they could not answer how cryopreservation would work in any logical way'.

And he asked: 'In 100 or 200 years' time, if there are no relatives around, who is going to make sure this firm is still preserving her body, as they promised?' The girl is identified only as JS.

Her father last saw her in 2007, when she was five, after contact was stopped following an acrimonious divorce from her mother. He stressed he had made numerous court applications to maintain access but claimed the girl's mother had opposed them all.

'When direct contact was refused, I tried to maintain a relationship by sending presents, letters and cards through social services,' he said.

'In some, I put in pictures of us together when she was aged four to five. I also put in a picture of her half-sister, from my second marriage, and said: "She'd love to meet you." I tried to build bridges - I loved her - and I wanted to see her but could not.'

His other daughter has not been told about what happened to JS's body in a bid to protect her, according to a source. He tried to see JS as she battled her illness but she refused, which he described as 'incredibly upsetting'.

Later, he only discovered his daughter wanted to be cryopreserved after reading it in court documents, he said.

I am no expert, but I am a rationalist, and I put my trust in their medical opinion.

Although he remains strongly opposed, he eventually agreed to back his daughter's legal bid for cryopreservation. 'If this was her last wish, then I had to respect that,' he said.

After the judge visited JS in hospital, when he was 'moved by the valiant way' she was facing death, she called him 'Hero Mr Jackson'. Her father had tried to set the condition, in return for his approval, that he be allowed to see her body after death. But the girl refused and the court upheld her decision.

Last night, at the office of solicitors Kilic & Kilic, he tearfully explained he simply wanted the chance to say goodbye. 'I believe it is every father's right to see their child for the last time,' he said. 'I had not seen her since she was five.'

JS's family are Muslim but her father - a former cab driver who moved to Britain in the 1980s - insisted religion played no part in his opposition to cryopreservation.

Speaking through an interpreter, he said: 'I am not religious and I don't believe in the afterlife.'

He added: 'None of the hospital doctors were in favour of her being cryopreserved - none of them think it will ever work.

'I am no expert, but I am a rationalist, and I put my trust in their medical opinion.

'If there is any good that can come of my daughter's death, and this interview, it is that funds are raised for Cancer Research UK, so we can eventually cure cancer.'

'To me, that is much more logical than spending money on cryopreserving those who have died.'

The Mail on Sunday contacted the lawyer for JS's mother yesterday but received no reply. Dennis Kowalski, president ofthe Cryonics Institute, denied it was taking advantage of anyone or profiting from people's fears.

He said the institute was 'a nonprofit organisation' adding that they gave 'no guarantees' it would ever work, but said even the smallest chance of returning to life was better than the alternative 'which is zero'.

- Daily Mail

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