When did the human journey of cryopreservation really start? Did it start when it was first mentioned in science fiction books? If so, we’d be talking about the early 20th century and works like “The Jameson Satellite” by Neil R. Jones. Or is the first serious conceptualization of the process the “real” starting point? In this case, Robert Ettingers “The Prospect of Immortality” from 1962 is what we’re looking for.
The future-oriented mind might argue that the real start of a journey is the first “successful step” towards the goal. If this definition is more to your liking then look no further than this article, in which we set out to discover the story of the very first cryogenically preserved human: James Bedford.
James Bedford, born on April 20th, 1893, was a professor at the famous University of California, Berkeley in the US. At an undisclosed point in his life, presumably his late-60s, Bedford was diagnosed with kidney cancer that worsened and metastasized into his lungs. With no treatment available and his death imminent, Bedford remembered an offer that had come to his attention some years prior: human cryopreservation.
Robert Nelson, president of the Cryonics Society of California, put out this offer FOR FREE in 1965, but no takers were found. A year later, in 1966, Nelson was contacted by James Bedford to volunteer for the experiment. Bedford donated $100.000 towards his cryopreservation, passing up on the free offer put out the year prior. Despite his generous gesture, none of that money should ever reach the Cryonics Society of California due to unforeseen legal battles his wife and son had with other relatives.
In 1966, James Bedford was declared dead at the age of 73 in a nursing home in Glendale, California.
Soon after the nurses’ call, the cryoprotection procedure was started by Robert Nelson and a team of helpers. They were contacted by the nursing home staff - who were told about their cryopreservation plans in advance - informing Nelson of Bedford’s death. They arrived at the scene approximately an hour later.
In the meantime, the nursing home staff was instructed to pack the deceased professor's body in ice to slow down degradation, as proposed by Robert Ettinger in his cryonics book published a few years earlier.
When Nelson and his team arrived, they immediately started injecting Bedford’s body with a cryoprotective agent consisting of 15% dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO) and 85% ringer's solution. He was then transferred into a box insulated with foam to preserve his body temperature.
James Bedford’s body was kept frozen by Robert Nelson in a garage in Topanga Canyon for some weeks, since his “cryonic capsule” was not ready to be used yet. He was later moved into a better-suited storage box at the facility of the Cryo-Care Equipment Corporation in Phoenix, Arizona, where he was kept for 2 years. Following this, his body was moved to the Galiso facility in 1969, where he was transitioned into a new dewar, and again to Trans Time in 1973 which was located near UC Berkeley, where he used to work. In 1987 he finally found a (as-of-now) permanent home at the Alcor Life Extension Facility, where he is stored inside a multi patient storage dewar to this day.
In 1991, after 24 years of cryonics suspension, James Bedford was shortly removed from the dewar for a brief external examination. The examination was conducted with the body suspended in liquid nitrogen to prevent warming, in turn reducing options for more detailed inspection.
His condition was reported as follows: “External visual examination discloses a well-developed, well nourished male who appears younger than his 73 years.” 
Additional inspection revealed multiple discolorations of skin around his neck, right forearm and hand, as well as small amounts of surface fracturing in his chest-area and bloody fluids issuing from the mouth and nose. Examiners concluded that none of these anomalies were unexpected, nor disastrous, considering the patients’ conditions over the course of the last 24 years. Multiple shifts in storage, fluctuating temperatures and imperfect methods of preservation (as vitrification was not possible at the time) were named as some of these factors.
The results of the examination were overall considered to be positive, and Bedford was returned to his long-term storage dewar.
James Bedford’s cryopreservation might not have been of the highest quality. It was most certainly not up to today’s standards. The usage of a scarcely tested cryoprotectant agent, the inability to vitrify the patient and the imperfect storage conditions all add up to a less-than-perfect cryogenic suspension. Yet, we don’t know what future technology will be able to achieve. There might be a way to revive the first-ever cryogenically frozen human one day. Who knows, maybe future nano-technology and gene-editing will bring the solution. We certainly wish Mr. Bedford best of luck!
One thing we can tell for sure is that cryopreservation technology has become way better since these early days of the cryogenic journey. Tomorrow Bio’s first cryogenically preserved patient will get a much better treatment than what was possible more than a half-century ago. Through the use of specialized cryoprotectant agents, state-of-the-art equipment and procedures, qualified doctors and a long history of cryonics to learn from, our patients will enjoy a greatly increased chance of future revival.
Do you want to extend your life into the future as well or have questions about biostasis? Schedule a call with us, and we will be happy to talk to you directly!