AURORA, Colorado. (CBS4) – UCHealth is treating record number of patients with frostbite after temperatures drop below zero over the weekend. As of Monday, there were 26 patients at the UCHealth Burn and Frostbite center on the Anschutz campus in Aurora, more than the hospital has ever had at any given time.
“We’re not used to having that many days in a row with this temperature cold so I was worried about that. Then I started to see all the numbers start to roll in and I knew my worst fears were going to come true. This is what has happened so far, ”said Dr Anne Wagner, medical director of the UCHealth Burn and Frostbite Center.
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Wagner says it’s important to see a doctor as soon as possible if frostbite is suspected. The longer a person waits, the higher the likelihood of amputation.
Alec Grimes was flown to UCHealth after a cold night in Fort Collins that nearly cost him both feet. His phone died, so he couldn’t call a cab. He didn’t think a few miles in Vans would get him to the hospital.
“There was snow on the ground and it was very wet. My feet were frozen stuck to my shoe. I went to the hospital and that’s when I found out I had frostbite, ”Grimes said. “They started talking about a possible amputation and at that point it got really scary.
Fortunately, Grimes left UCHealth on two feet.
The parts of the body most commonly affected by frostbite are areas exposed to cold air, especially fingers and hands, feet and toes, nose and ears.
Signs and symptoms of frostbite include:
- Chills are the first sign the body is losing heat, so don’t ignore it
- Pale skin color
- Awkward movements
- Pain that persists for 45 minutes after warming up
- After warming, increased redness or discoloration
“It’s a really deep, very sharp, stinging, burning pain and nothing you do can improve it. What the patient will usually notice is that their fingers turn really white, they have a hard time bending them, and they can’t really feel the tips, ”Wagner said.
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Frostbite only takes 30 minutes when the temperature is 5 degrees and the wind speed is 30 mph. At -5 degrees and a wind speed of 30 mph, frostbite will occur in 10 minutes.
Wagner says the majority of patients with frostbite are homeless.
After nearly losing his feet, Grimes began donating cold weather gear for the people on the streets.
In these temperatures, they can’t afford another cold shoulder.
“That’s one of the first things I thought about, it’s all the people who are stuck in there, and they have no shelter or way to stay warm. It’s definitely something that I keep in mind every year and that’s why I continue to do this year after year, ”said Grimes.
Despite the economic hardships many people face right now, Grimes says this has been one of his best winters for community giving.
Below is a list of organizations accepting donations for those in need. Due to COVID-19, all donors are urged to call ahead to confirm the location still accepts items and be aware of guidelines / restrictions.
Denver Children’s Clothing – (720) 379-4630
Comitas Crisis Center on the Anschutz Campus – (303) 341-9160
Denver Coalition for the Homeless – (303) 293-2217
Denver Rescue Mission – (303)294-0157
Haven of Hope – (303) 607-0855
Impact Humanity – (720) 629-2619
Samaritan House – (303) 294-0241
To help prevent frostbite:
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- Dress in layers and keep outdoor clothing dry
- Choose a loosely woven fabric for the inner layer (wool, silk, polypropylene). These fabrics retain more heat and help prevent excessive sweating
- Outside in cold weather, take frequent breaks indoors and assess hands, feet, ears and nose
- Cover your head – wear a hat and earmuffs
- Wear heavy mittens instead of gloves. The collective body heat of the fingers being together keeps the hand warm
- Two pairs of thinner socks provide better insulation than one pair of thicker socks
- Be prepared when you travel in cold weather. Keep a winter survival kit in the car that includes blankets, matches, and extra clothing. Never rely on your car’s heater to stay warm, as your car could run out of gas or be damaged in an accident.
What medical experts say you should do if you think you have frostbite:
- Remove wet clothes and enter a warm environment
- Avoid rubbing the area – rubbing the frozen tissue can cause further damage
- If you’re worried about having frozen digits / ends, avoid reheating them until you’re sure they don’t freeze.
- Seek immediate medical attention. Getting proper treatment within 12-24 hours of warming the wound can save frozen areas from possible amputation
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