Coroner: Woman suffocated in cryotherapy accident

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LAS VEGAS (AP) -- Weeks after a spa worker was found dead at a Las Vegas cryotherapy center, authorities said Tuesday she suffocated in the chamber chilled by liquid nitrogen.

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Chelsea Patricia Ake-Salvacion, 24, died accidentally from the asphyxia caused by low oxygen levels, the Clark County coroner's office said.

The death drew scrutiny to the treatment where people are subjected to extremely low temperatures not found anywhere on Earth.

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Cryotherapy - low-temperature physical therapy
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Coroner: Woman suffocated in cryotherapy accident
Italian Rugby players stand in a cryotherapy chamber at the University of Surrey in Guildford, south England on September 16, 2015 2015 aheard of the Rugby Union World Cup which begins on September 18. AFP PHOTO / FRANCK FIFE RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE (Photo credit should read FRANCK FIFE/AFP/Getty Images)
TORONTO, ON - JULY 15: Toronto Star reporter Michael Robinson sits inside a cryotherapy machine at the Cryotherapy Health and Wellness facility on July 17, 2015. The three minute procedure is said to have multiple health benefits including better sleep, pain relief and weight loss. (Brian B. Bettencourt/Toronto Star via Getty Images)
France's midfielder Elodie Thomis reacts as she undergoes treatment in a medical device used for cryotherapy at the French national football team training base in Clairefontaine-en-Yvelines, on May 11, 2015, during preparations for the upcoming FIFA 2015 Women's World Cup. AFP PHOTO / FRANCK FIFE --FRANCE OUT-- (Photo credit should read FRANCK FIFE/AFP/Getty Images)
Hyperbaric Gaseous Cryotherapy, Illustration of the treatment of joint pain with hyperbaric gaseous cryotherapy. Carbon dioxide at Negative 78°C and 50 bars is propelled into the joint, which creates a thermal shock. (Photo by: BSIP/UIG via Getty Images)
GAYDON, ENGLAND - JULY 18; Wounded serviceman Jaco van Gass undergoes a minus 40 degrees Celsius cryotherapy recovery session following a training ride for the Invictus Games on July 18, 2014 in Gaydon, England. Jaco van Gass and Luke Darlington are aiming to qualify for the British Armed Forces cycling team and were given access to Jaguar Land Rover's temperature testing facility usually reserved for testing cars in the most extreme temperatures. Jaguar Land Rover is an Official Partner of the 2014 Invictus Games. (Photo by Paul Thomas/Getty Images for Jaguar Land Rover)
Hydrotherapy, Whole Body Cryotherapy at INSEP, National institute of sport, France. Therapy stimulates temperature receptors in skin to communicate with brain, inhibits inflammation resulting in a reduction of pain and swelling, improves joint function which enables quicker Treatment and results. patient use a Medical Hydro-Jet, a massage waterbed with high pressure jets. (Photo By BSIP/UIG via Getty Images)
Whole Body Cryotherapy, National institute of sport, France. Stimulates temperature receptors in skin to communicate with brain, inhibits inflammation resulting in a reduction of pain and swelling, improves joint function. (Photo By BSIP/UIG via Getty Images)
France's national football team Franck Ribery is pictured in a medical engine used for cryotherapy at the training center in Kircha on June 7, 2012, on the eve of the Euro 2012 football championships opening match in Warsaw. France will play its first match on June 11 against England. AFP PHOTO / FRANCK FIFE (Photo credit should read FRANCK FIFE/AFP/Getty Images)
Participants exit the cryotherapy room at the cryotherapy division of the Olympic Sports Centre in Spala, 100 kilometres (60 miles) southwest of the Polish capital Warsaw on March 7, 2012. The cryotherapy division has become legendary since Wales came here in June 2011 and four months later powered into the World Cup semi-finals in New Zealand. AFP PHOTO / JANEK SKARZYNSKI (Photo credit should read JANEK SKARZYNSKI/AFP/Getty Images)

Backers claim it can ease pain and inflammation, aid blood flow and weight loss, improve skin and even ward off aging and depression.

The treatments, however, have not been approved for medical use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The coroner's ruling will likely factor into the Nevada health department's broad investigation of cryotherapy, which could result in some of the first regulations of its kind worldwide.

Family members of Ake-Salvacion said they would keep pushing for regulation of the unproven treatments.

"Accidental death from an oxygen poor environment raises more questions than it answers," said a statement released by family attorney Richard Harris. "Chelsea died from breathing poisonous liquid nitrogen produced from a cryotherapy chamber touted for its health benefits."

Cryotherapy can involve two- to four-minutes-long exposures to temperatures ranging from minus-166 to minus-319 degrees Fahrenheit.

Ake-Salvacion was found on Oct. 20 at the Rejuvenice spa where she worked after apparently entering the cryotherapy chamber while she was alone the night before.

The coroner's office said she died in an "oxygen-poor environment."

Normal air is about 21 percent oxygen, but the coroner said cryotherapy chambers can bring down that level to less than 5 percent during treatments.

"Breathing air with this low level of oxygen can quickly result in unconsciousness and then death," the coroner's office said.

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Her family has said Ake-Salvacion was found crumpled at the bottom of the machine about the size of a phone booth. They do not believe she made any mistakes that night, insisting she was an experienced operator of the machine.

Harris has said Ake-Salvacion had texted a friend about a possible nitrogen leak in the machine, noting that the nitrogen appeared to be used quickly.

The owners of Rejuvenice have not returned calls and emails seeking comment. They were forced to shut down Rejuvenice locations over a lack of state and local approvals unrelated to the death.

State Occupational Safety and Health investigators have said Ake-Salvacion should not have been using the cryotherapy chamber after hours. Las Vegas police say no crime was suspected.

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