coming back alive
What's Frostbite?
Frostbite is a medical condition that can happen to anyone. In the most basic terms frostbite is when the skin and/or the tissue under the skin freezes and causes cell damage. This is caused by exposure to cold, either through the air or through a chemical exposure, like to dry ice (frozen CO2) or highly compressed gases.

Under extreme conditions frostbite can occur in seconds.The elderly, young children, people with circulatory disorders, and people from tropical climates have a higher risk factor of getting frostbite.

People who have had previous cold injuries are also particularly at risk of getting injuries again in the same places!

Little Girl Escapes With Only Frostbite



Little Erika Nordby confirmed the validity of the statement: "You are not dead until you are warm and dead."

The statement is not an uncommon one in the world of medical personnel who work with victims of acute hypothermia.

It seems to exemplify the remarkable ability the body possesses at low temperatures. When exposed to extreme cold, the body will systematically shut down, allowing the vital functions of the body to be maintained. Not only is the patient able to survive, but many make a full recovery.

Not all victims of hypothermia are able to escape its grip, and as many as 700 people die from hypothermia each year according to the American Centre for Disease Control. This was confirmed again by the case of an Ottawa woman who froze to death in a snowbank in December.

All hypothermia stories do not end happily. More people die of extreme hypothermia - major loss of body temperature - than survive it.

So what happens in cases like the 13-month-old Edmonton girl, whose diaper-clad body withstood the frigid blasts of -20 C temperatures?

The body's metabolism slows down with the rapid loss of core temperature. This marked decline in activity means the body needs less oxygen and energy to sustain itself.

The lower the body temperature the lower the requirements of oxygen.

For instance, with a core temperature of 20 C -- 37 C is normal -- a body needs only 20 per cent of its normal oxygen intake, he explained.

Erika, when found, had a core temperature of 15 C. She was, in essence, in a cold-induced coma -- a state not dissimilar to that used by doctors to facilitate some forms of cardiac surgery.

She had no circulation for some time, but because of the low temperatures the oxygen her brain needed to function was very low.

What's important for survival is that the body cools down rapidly and that it's healthy at the time.

When comparing an accidental hypothermia victim to someone caught in an avalanche is the avalanche victim usually dies from suffocation.

Spotting the Symptoms

The following are some of the most common symptoms of frostbite. However, each child may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:

  • skin is reddened and then becomes white, hard, and swollen

  • skin burns, tingles or becomes numb

Severe frostbite can result in blisters or ulcers forming and may involve deeper tissues. As frostbite progresses, tissue death and gangrene may occur.

The symptoms of frostbite may resemble other conditions and medical problems. Always consult your child's physician for a diagnosis.

An X-Ray of a patient's hand affected by frostbite on the fingertips.
Two Die, Pilot Survives

IQALUIT - Two men were killed and another was seriously injured after a helicopter crashed early Sunday morning onto the sea ice near Resolute Bay.

Scientists Malcolm Ramsay, 51, and Stuart Innes, 47, are believed to have died on impact. The pair were on their way back from a day-long journey to research polar bears. Benoit Boulet, the pilot and lone survivor, is now at an Ottawa hospital after suffering four broken limbs.

Boulet's survival is "beyond my understanding," said Const. Sylvie Jeannotte, who traveled with a nurse and a renewable resources officer to the site of the helicopter crash.

"It is beyond my understanding. It is a miracle that he survived," Jeannotte said. The six-seat Bell 106 L helicopter is believed to have crashed between 12 a.m. and 12:30 a.m. Sunday morning. The Polar Continental Shelf Project reported the plane overdue at about 3 a.m.

Two Twin Otter planes were sent out to search for the aircraft, but poor visibility hampered their efforts.

Later volunteer ground teams on skidoos were sent out and CFB Trenton sent in a Canadian Forces Hercules from Winnipeg to help with the search.

Iqaluit, Nunavut. Temperatures here pose the risk of frostibite all year round.
northern mining
Mining in Canada's North comes with threats to your health not found anywhere else. Be prepared for the weather... it could save your life!
Fighting Frostbite
Frostnipped fingers are helped by blowing warm air on them or holding them under one's armpits. Other frostnipped areas can be covered with warm hands. The injured areas should never be rubbed.
Frostbite Freezers

Frostbite can attack when temperatures are below freezing. Wind and humidity can shorten the time it takes for frostbite to occur.

Consider the following to help prevent frostbite:
  • Do not go outside in cold weather after a bath or shower.

  • Wear warm clothes and dress in layers.

  • Layer 1 – wear clothes that will keep moisture away from the skin. Thermal underwear, moisture-reducing winter sportswear, cotton socks and mitten and glove liners are good items to use. The first layer, like the other layers, should not be so tight that circulation is impeded.

  • Layer 2 – wear loose clothing that is intended to resist dampness and maintain body temperature. Heavy pants, sweaters and sweatshirts are good items for layer two.

  • Layer 3 – wear tightly woven moisture-resistant outerwear. Moisture-resistant coats and jackets, hats, scarves, gloves and mittens and boots are good third layer items.

  • Bring children inside at regular intervals and inspect fingers and noses for signs of frostnip and frostbite.

  • If you are away from home, take extra clothing along.

  • Keep dry. Wet clothes increase the chance of heat loss.



Under Your Skin...

When your skin is exposed to extreme cold, particularly your extremities - feet, hands, nose, ears, and face - your blood vessels constrict. This is a natural reaction to prevent body heat loss and hypothermia.

With a loss of warming blood flow (or in extreme cases where blood flow cannot compete with the extreme cold) the fluid within your cells and tissues start to freeze forming ice crystals. These ice crystals take up more room within the cells than when in a fluid state, and cause the cells to rupture.

Also, sudden warming can cause the cells to rupture. This is why large blisters can form when there is superficial or severe frostbite.

A Touch of Jack Frost

1) First degree, also called frost nip:

Most people who live in very cold climates or do a lot of outdoor activity in the winter have had first degree frostbite (just as most people have had a first degree burn when they get sunburn).

Frost nip presents itself as numbed skin that has turned white in color. The skin may feel stiff to the touch, but the tissue under is still warm and soft.

There is very little chance of blistering, infection or permanent scarring as long as it is treated properly.


2) Second degree, superficial frostbite:

Superficial frostbite is a serious medical condition that needs to be treated by a trained medical professional.

The skin will be white or blue and will feel hard and frozen. The tissue underneath is still undamaged.

Blistering is likely which is why medical treatment should be sought out. Proper treatment is critical to prevent severe or permanent injuries.


3) Third degree, deep frostbite:

The skin is white, blotchy and/or blue. The tissue underneath is hard and cold to the touch. This is a life threatening injury.

Deep frostbite needs to be treated by a trained medical professional. The tissue underneath has been damaged, in severe cases amputation may be the final recourse to prevent severe infection.

Blistering will happen. Proper medical treatment in a medical facility with personnel trained to deal with severe frostbite injuries is required to aid in the prevention of severe or permanent injury.

Frostbite will first affect the extremities, and cause skin blistering and yellowing.
Frostbite Fixers: First Aid
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Specific treatment for frostbite will be determined by your child's physician based on the extent and severity of the injury.


In general:

  • Remain calm and reassure the victim that you can help. If feet are affected, carry the victim (especially if it is a child); do not allow him/her to walk.

  • Shelter the victim from cold by moving them to a warmer area. Remove any constricting jewellery and wet clothing.

  • If immediate medical help is available it is best to wrap the affected areas in sterile dressings, separate the fingers and toes and transport the victim to an emergency department for further care. Frostbite can cause serious injury and needs immediate medical attention.

  • While waiting for medical assistance, begin Rewarming First Aid:

    • Give the victim something warm to drink and wrap a blanket around him/her. This will not only re-warm the victim from the inside out but will also help replace lost fluids.

    • Warm the skin by using warm compresses or immersing the area in warm water (100º to 105° F) until sensation returns. Do not use HOT water it will burn the skin. Keep circulating water to aid in the re-warming process.

    • Do not rub or massage the skin.

    • Do not use direct heat such as heating pads or fires.

    • Do not place the frostbitten skin in snow to "warm" it.

    • Apply clean cotton or gauze between fingers and toes if they are affected.

    • Do not disturb any blisters.

    • Wrap warmed areas of the skin to prevent further damage.

    • Move thawed areas as little as possible.

Further treatment will depend on the extent and severity of injury and may include treatment of skin damage with surgery.
Canadian Forces Members Found

Two Canadian Forces members and two Canadian Rangers stranded in a blizzard for about 24 hours were found safe this week and returned to Rankin Inlet on March 4. After surviving windchill temperatures of -78 °C, Ranger Nippi Alogut of Chesterfield Inlet arrived in Rankin Inlet on his own at about 2:45 p.m. with no injuries.

Ranger Kevin Issaluk of Chesterfield Inlet, Capt. Bob Saunders of Canadian Forces Northern area, Yellowknife and Sgt. Bill Lepatourel of Canadian Forces Northern area, Yellowknife, were met by two members of the Baker Lake Canadian Ranger patrol mid-afternoon on March 3, while a C-130 Hercules aircraft flew overhead to provide additional support if needed.

The group made its way to a cabin about 50 kilometres outside of Rankin Inlet where Rangers provided additional fuel from the community. After a rest, both groups made their way back to Rankin Inlet, arriving at about midnight on March 4.

Saunders sustained minor frostbite to the tips of his fingers and nose and Lepatourel was sent to Winnipeg to see a specialist about his frostbitten feet. Neither Ranger sustained any injury.

The four Forces members were participating in an exercise involving Rangers from Rankin Inlet, Whale Cove and Arviat and were separated from the main party as they were returning to Rankin Inlet on March 2 at about 11 p.m.

Two Lucky to Escape with Only Minor Frostbite

IQALUIT — Two mine workers who went missing in a blizzard last week were found safe with only minor injuries.

Kevin White and Jim Graham disappeared March 19 south of Kugluktuk.

Search-and-rescue members from the community found the men near the Coppermine River March 22. One of the men, White, was suffering from minor frostbite to his hands and toes.

The men, employees of Meridian Geoscience, had gone missing while traveling by snowmobile from their camp at McGregor Lake to a drilling site a few kilometres away.

Blizzard conditions slowed the search for the two men.

Dress to Fit the Season
  • Wear loose-fitting, light-weight, warm clothing in several layers. Trapped air insulates.

  • Layers can be removed to avoid perspiration and subsequent chill.

  • Outer garments should be tightly woven, water repellent, and hooded.

  • Wear a hat. Half your body heat loss can be from your head.

  • Cover your mouth to protect your lungs from extreme cold.

  • Mittens, snug at the wrist, are better than gloves.

  • Try to stay dry.

Alcohol, Drugs and Frostbite

Alcohol and drugs should be avoided because of their harmful effects on judgment and reasoning. Both alcohol use and smoking cause changes in circulation that leave individuals more susceptible to frostbite.

Paying close attention to the weather report before venturing outdoors and avoiding unnecessary risks such as driving in isolated areas during a blizzard are also important.