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HCMC Treats 33 Frostbite Cases In 1 Week During Recent Cold Snap

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- In just one week, Hennepin Healthcare treated 33 patients, from all over the state, for frostbite. Doctors there say this winter has been comparable to the year of the polar vortex when it comes to frostbite injuries. That's why they're thankful to be the only hospital in the state using an old tool, in a new way to treat frostbite faster.

Stryker's SPY-PHI machine is typically used in operating rooms for major surgeries. Now, the physicians working in the hyperbaric chamber of HCMC are using that same tool to treat acute injuries, like frostbite.

In treating frostbite, time is everything. The faster doctors treat the injured skin, the higher the chances they can save it. The machine cuts treatment time in half.

"The previous [way] took a couple hours to do, we can get this done in less than half an hour and get them their medicines," said Dr. Tom Masters, who showed WCCO how this scanner pin points exactly where the frost bite is.

Masters injects a dye that highlights a patients veins. Then he scans the injured body part and, like an ultra sound, it will show doctors where blood is moving freely, which is well-lit, anything that is dark is frostbite.

"You can see he's not getting any blood flow past the base of his toes," said Masters, as he showed where a recent frostbite victim they treated had obstructed blood flow to all their toes on their left foot.

In this case, Masters said this patient was walking outside with wet shoes.

"Unfortunately, the most common frostbite cases are patients that have housing issues, so homeless patients, indigent patients," said Masters.

Depending on where you live, it could take as little as five to 10 minutes to develop frostbite this weekend.

Despite all his layers he wore, Mickey Younkin's toes developed frost bite on Thursday night.

"I tried to warm it up, I got inside and got hot water, well warm water, it was a burning feeling, almost made me cry. It was horrible," said Masters.

Masters' advice to avoid frost bite is listen to your body. If you're feeling sharp pain or discomfort in your finger-tips, toes, nose, or ears these are the first signs of frost bite. Another sign is discoloration of the skin.

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