Teenager's stomach removed after drinking cocktail

Chef using liquid nitrogen in New York
A New York chef demonstrates how to use liquid nitrogen in cooking

A teenager has had emergency surgery to remove her stomach after drinking a cocktail containing liquid nitrogen.

Lancashire Police say Gaby Scanlon was out with friends in Lancaster last Thursday (4 October) when it happened.

The 18-year-old is reported to have become breathless and developed severe stomach pain before being taken to Royal Lancaster Infirmary.

Officers say she would have died if doctors had not performed the operation.

The woman, from Heysham in Lancashire, was taken from Oscar's wine bar to hospital at 11pm.

She was diagnosed with a perforated, or pierced stomach, and is now in a serious but stable condition.

'Toxic chemical'

Lancashire Police have not officially named the place where she bought the cocktail, but say Oscar's has stopped selling it.

The bar say their "heartfelt best wishes" go to Gaby Scanlon and her family "at this distressing time".

A police statement said: "The premises involved have fully co-operated with all agencies and have suspended drinks involving liquid nitrogen.

"The investigation is still in its early stages and we are still interviewing witnesses to establish the full facts.

The force said they had been warning other bars in the city about what had happened.

Doctor John Ashton, director of public health for Cumbria, said: "This girl is the victim of an irresponsible alcohol industry that's now competing on gimmicks.

"Alcohol itself is a very dangerous thing if improperly handled and liquid nitrogen is [as well]. It destroys human tissue."

Gaby Scanlon had been out celebrating her 18th birthday.

Liz Nicholls, principal at Ripley St Thomas Church of England Academy, says the teenager is one of their "most hardworking and mature students".

In a statement she added: "Our whole school community is shocked and upset at what has happened.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with Gaby, her family and her friends who are obviously upset and distressed.

"We are pleased to hear that she is making better than expected progress."

Other uses

If swallowed, liquid nitrogen can cause cold burns to the mouth, throat and stomach, killing the tissue.

As the frozen vapour hits the stomach it rapidly warms, releasing large volumes of air which can burst the stomach.

Sperm being frozen
Liquid nitrogen is used by doctors to freeze eggs during IVF treatment

Doctors performed emergency surgery to remove Gaby Scanlon's stomach, an operation known as a total gastrectomy.

During the operation the stomach is cut out and the remaining two tubes to and from the stomach, the oesophagus and the small bowel, are connected.

People who have had a gastrectomy will still be able to lead a normal life and eat and drink regular food but they will need to eat smaller amounts and take vitamin supplements to make sure they get enough nourishment.

Chef Heston Blumenthal has popularised the use of liquid nitrogen in cooking, using it to make food including ice cream.

In cocktails it is usually used to freeze ingredients, to chill glasses or as a visual gimmick.

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) says bars, pubs and clubs have a legal obligation to make sure anything they serve to the public is fit for human consumption.

The FSA's Colin Houston said: "There are safety and handling guidelines around the use of liquid nitrogen, especially in relation to food.

"It is the business owner's responsibility to make sure that their staff have been trained and are aware of the potential risks of using liquid nitrogen."

Liquid nitrogen is also used in medicine to remove unwanted skin, warts and pre-cancerous cells, while in industry it can be used as a coolant for things like computers.

Additionally it has been used in cryogenics, where scientists find what happens to materials at very cold temperatures.

BBC News Magazine: Who What Why? How dangerous is liquid nitrogen?