Erie frostbite patients sent to West Penn Burn Center for treatment –

Several area patients were frostbitten so severely during last week’s blizzard that they have been transferred to a burn unit in Pittsburgh for treatment.
Sending frostbite patients to a burn unit might not make sense at first, but it’s the best place to treat their severe injuries, said Dr. Jestin Carlson, a Saint Vincent Hospital emergency physician.
“Frostbite is a thermal injury and sometimes these patients need the same treatments as burn patients receive,” Carlson said.
Frostbite occurs when a person’s skin and underlying tissues freeze. Left untreated, moderate and severe frostbite can cause permanent damage to the skin, muscle, bone and other tissue.
Temperatures dropped to minus-2 on Dec. 23 at the Erie International Airport, with wind chills reaching minus-30. People outdoors with exposed flesh could have developed frostbite in less than 30 minutes, according to the National Weather Service.
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Saint Vincent treated people with frostbitten extremities before transferring the most severe cases to West Penn Burn Center in Pittsburgh over the Christmas weekend. Carlson declined to say exactly how many patients were transferred, due to patient privacy laws.
“Usually it’s an extremity, like a finger or toe, that is frostbitten,” Carlson said. “What we do first is try to thaw out the extremity by placing it in warm water, about 104 degrees. We don’t want to use hot water because we don’t want to damage the extremity.”
At least some of those severely frostbitten patients remained hospitalized Wednesday, Carlson said.
Though local temperatures were expected to rise into the 40s and 50s later this week, winter has just started and cold weather — and the risk of frostbite — is expected to return.
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Certain people are at higher risk of frostbite, including:
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Regardless of your risk factor, limit your time when going outdoors in freezing weather. If you must head outside, wear several layers of warm, loose clothing and watch for signs of frostbite.
These signs include cold skin and a prickling feeling, numbness, skin color change, waxy looking skin, and blisters after warming up.
“Seek medical care immediately if you believe you have frostbite,” Carlson said.
Contact David Bruce at Follow him on Twitter @ETNBruce.


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