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Minn. Emergency Rooms Prepared For Hypothermia, Frostbite Cases

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(credit: CBS) Susan-Elizabeth Littlefield
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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – A college student is in the hospital Tuesday night after experiencing just how cruel a Minnesota’s winter can be.

Nineteen-year-old Alyssa Jo Lommel’s family says she may lose limbs after she spent all night Friday outside in subzero temperatures.

The University of Minnesota — Duluth student was found unconscious on a neighbor’s porch in Duluth early Saturday morning. She’d been dropped off at her home more than nine hours earlier.

This is a difficult scenario, but it is not new.

The next eight weeks at emergency rooms are expected to be some of the busiest. They have supplies of warming blankets on hand and doctors know what to expect.

It’s primetime in Minnesota for hypothermia and frostbite cases, according to Dr. Kai Tuominen of St. John’s Hospital in Maplewood. Most affected are elderly people who fall and can’t get up and people who’ve used alcohol or drugs.

“As they kind of slumber down, there’s often a paradoxical warm sensation with hypothermia that will further impair their judgment, and as you get colder and colder, your decision making gets worse and worse,” Tuominen said.

It’s not clear how Lommel ended up in the cold all night, but it’s clear that the weather was brutal — minus 18 near where she was found, and the wind chill was minus 36.

Her family says her hands and feet are so damaged, she could lose them.

It’s an extreme case, but Tuominen says for anyone who spends time outside, the slightest of signs can be the biggest of indicators.

“When things start hurting, get out of the cold,” he said.

Lommel is in critical condition at Regions Hospital in St. Paul.

Her parents say they’re grateful for everyone’s thoughts and prayers, but they’d like privacy to focus on her healing.

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