Doctors at University Hospital prepare for severe frostbite cases

AURORA, Colo. - Doctors and emergency rooms across Colorado are anticipating a surge in frost bite cases in the wake of this epic cold snap.

At the University of Colorado Hospital in Aurora, the specialized burn intensive care unit is prepared to handle patients from across the state.   A helipad is equipped to receive patients who are dealing with the most serious of cases, at risk for losing limbs, after being trapped in the cold.

"Sometimes it's the guys up on the mountain whose snowmobile breaks down and they can't fix it," said  Dr. Gordon Lindberg of the University of Colorado.  "A lot of homeless people, a lot of people whose car runs out of gas."

Advances in treatment have been made in the past decade.   Doctors are now using medication typically used to treat strokes to help with frostbite.

"Trying to open up the veins and open up the arteries from the frozen tissue, so we can restore circulation," said Lindberg.
These extreme cases may be rare -- doctors stress in severe cold like this that the damage can be done in just minutes.    

"Every time we have cold snap like this, there's always somebody's whose been caught outside."

To help prevent frostbite, volunteers from the University of Colorado Hospital Burn Center are distributing hundreds of socks to local homeless residents.

There are many different causes of burns including chemicals, electricity, heat and even cold temperatures.  The Burn Center at the University of Colorado Hospital is a leader in treating severe burns and frostbite, but doctors, nurses and volunteers prefer to prevent a burn than treat one. They would also like to make everyone aware of the advanced possibilities of treatment if those with a frostbite injury are brought to the UCH Burn Center in the first 24 hours after the injury. Quick arrival at the Burn Center can help save fingers and toes.

To help those at greater risk of frostbite and to help educate them on possible treatment options, volunteers will hand out 30 dozen pairs of thermal socks to homeless residents along with educational fliers in both English and Spanish.

"It just feels good to talk with these men and women, give each a pair of warm socks and possibly help them avoid frostbite injuries," said Katie Fuenning, Outreach Coordinator for the UCH Burn Center.

Frostbite occurs when the body is exposed to cold temperatures and the body shunts blood flow away from extremities and digits - pushing the blood to more vital areas. With that reduced blood flow, tissue can freeze. During the rewarming process, clots can form when the body attempts to return blood flow to extremities. The UCH Burn Center is one of the few facilities in the nation that uses a treatment of injecting the clot-dissolving drug t-PA (Tissue plasminogen activator) intervenously to help dissolve those clots and potentially save tissues. This can only be done in those first 24 hours after injury.

"We’re making sure the homeless people we meet are educated about frostbite, how to prevent it and how important it is to seek medical help when necessary," said Katie Fuenning, Outreach Coordinator for the UCH Burn Center.  "While these socks can help, on those really cold nights, we want everyone to be inside and warm."

Here's a link to donate:

The University of Colorado Hospital Burn Center is the only American Burn Association verified Burn Center in Colorado.

Here's a link to the Burn Center's website:

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