Doctors Busy Treating Frostbite at HCMC

Updated: 01/15/2013 6:10 PM By: Leslie Dyste

With arctic air and freezing temperatures, Minnesotans who stay outside too long could suffer frostbite.

The burn unit at Hennepin County Medical Center has seen about two dozen cases of frostbite already this winter.

The first cases came in December with the first cold snap we saw. With more frigid air on the way, doctors at the burn unit are preparing for a busy weekend.

Joe Cole started out 2013 nearly frozen to death.

After a night of celebrating New Year's Eve, he found himself stranded in the cold for eight hours.

Cole said, "I was like God, you've got to help me, (because) I don't know how much more of this I can take."

His body was shutting down, but his survival instincts kicked in. Cole remembers, "Grabbing onto fences trying to pull myself up, trying to kick in windows... anything I could do to alert people I was out there."

In the morning, a woman came to Cole's rescue and he was rushed to HCMC. "(Doctors at HCMC) Started heating me up. I felt like my body was going to go into shock because I was so used to being cold at that point."

According to Dr. Ryan Fey, since pain is reduced as the tissue cools, it's much less painful initially than a burn injury. But, as the tissue thaws it becomes quite painful.

Cole has frostbitten knees, elbows, hands and rear-end. He has to get a skin graph, but has beat most of the odds.

Fey says the best way to prevent getting frostbite is to do basic things, like take breaks from the cold, wear warm clothes, and don't drink too much alcohol- since it can impair judgment.