EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WCCO) — On a winter night, most children are warm in their beds. But 10 years ago, a mother and father awoke to discover their 2-year-old was missing. He’d wandered out of their farmhouse near Eau Claire in the middle of the night.
By the time anyone realized the boy was missing, he was seemingly dead.
His body temperature had dropped to 60 degrees. The human heart stops at 72.
So what happened next is what some consider a miracle. Others say it’s just the spirit inside a young boy named Paulie.
Growing up on a dairy farm, life’s lessons are all around. The work day starts early. Cows have to be milked. Heifers need to be fed.
Many hands make lighter work for Mark and Cindy Hynek. But the job’s not done until mom says so.
“Go get ready for school and we’ll see you later,” said Cindy. “Have a good day. Bye.”
Paulie Hynek is pretty much like any of his five brothers and sisters. Except for one thing that makes him different.
Paulie has learned one of the hardest lessons in life.
He died once.
“911 what’s your emergency,” said the operator in 2001.
“I got a little boy that went out in the middle of the night. And he went outside and I don’t know if he’s alive or dead,” Mark told the operator.
Little Paulie was just 2-years-old when he wandered outside looking for his mom while everyone was asleep. It was 2 degrees below zero when his dad found him lying in a snow bank at about 6:30 in the morning.
Paulie wasn’t breathing.
“He was lifeless. When I picked him up, he was limp,” said Mark.
“There’s nothin, there’s nothin’. I’ve lost my boy,” he told the 911 operator.
“We can help him. We can see if we can help him,” said the operator. “Sometimes the cold will slow down their system and we can help him.”
The Mayo Clinic medical helicopter got Paulie to the Luther Hospital in Eau Claire. And the emergency crew just wasn’t ready to give up on this young life.
“He was so profoundly cold,” said Brad Grewe, Director of the Emergency Room.
Even though there was no heartbeat, no breathing and no brain activity.
“You never really can pronounce somebody dead unless they’ve been warmed up,” said Grewe.
They started with warm fluids and IVs. Then Paulie’s blood was circulated through a heart-lung machine.
“You can explain parts of it through science,” said Robert Weichmann, the cardiac surgeon who was as surprised as anyone when Paulie’s heart came back to life.
“There had to be a miraculous event to allow this to happen and be what it is today,” said Weichmann. “There had to be some wonderful spirit inside this young boy.”
The 2-year old boy who survived a night in the cold is now a typical sixth-grader.
Doctors worried that his internal organs or brain might be damaged because blood flow had stopped for nearly three hours.
But today Paulie has got good grades and even plays on the football team.
In fact, aside from the incision doctors made in his chest, the only evidence he went through what he did is some minor damage to his hands.
“The end of my fingers here, the nerves they ain’t as strong as all the other ones,” he said. “This one was worse; this one was underneath my chest.”
“They wanted to see what 10 years would be like too. Then we could really see a big difference from 2 to 12,” said Mark. “And he’s perfect.”
“He was happy-go-lucky, fun, inventive and stuff like that,” said Cindy. “He’s the same kid now, I think, he was back then.”
And even though Paulie just celebrated turning 12 in January.
“We celebrate his life, or the life you know, life in general,” said Cindy. “We celebrate the anniversary. We call it Paulie’s anniversary.”
“We remember. Don’t forget,” said Mark.
“One night I woke up. I was looking for my mom and I didn’t know where she was. And then I went outside looking for her and I got too cold. And then I just died. And then the rest of it is history,” said Paulie.
To celebrate his life this Feb. 27, Paulie said he wants to go bowling.
Joan Gilbertson, Producer