MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Sitting in the plaza garden outside Children’s Hospital in Minneapolis, Eileen Skillingstad knows the mountain that hypothermic eight-year-old Isaiah Risland has to climb.

“There are no words. There are no words,” family spokeswoman Skillingstad said, fighting back tears.

Hypothermia took the lives of Isaiah’s younger brothers. Two-year-old Jacob and six-year-old Zech both died when their father’s new sailboat overturned Friday in the frigid waters of Clearwater Lake in Beltrami County.

All three children were wearing life preservers and were left near the boat when their father, Dan, swam to shore to summon help. By the time help arrived, the boys had been floating in the cold water for nearly an hour. Two were unconscious and later died, despite the heroic efforts of first responders who tried reviving the boys with cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).

“Every parent, every grandparent and every relative who’s lost someone knows what it’s like, and they’ve lost two-thirds of their family,” Skillingstad said.

Despite Minnesota’s unusually warm spring and early ice-out, the lakes tell a different story. Water temperatures of most lakes in the state are still a dangerous 40 to 50 degree Fahrenheit, and the farther north the lake, the colder the surface water temperature.

Severe hypothermia sets in when the body’s core temperature drops by just five to seven degrees, down to 91.4 Fahrenheit. That’s when the body’s heart and other organs begin shutting down.

Hypothermia is a big concern for the Department of Natural Resources boat and water safety personnel.

“The smaller the body, a lot of times, the quicker the heat loss, just because there isn’t as much fat to protect – or large body mass – to protect that area, so they cool off quicker than an adult,” said the DNR’s division director Kim Elverum.

As he comes off medicines to control blood pressure and insulin, Isaiah’s family remains cautiously guarded.

“Keep him in prayer and never forget that there’s a special little boy that needs our prayers,” said Skillingstad.

Medical staff at Children’s will begin the re-warming process using a blanket device that pumps liquids or air through it to gradually bring up Isaiah’s core temperature.

It will take between 12 and 18 hours to restore Isaiah’s core body temperature to the normal temp of 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit.

Bill Hudson

Comments (3)
  1. Colleen Ottman says:

    I do not know this family, but my prayers and thoughts are with you. May God watch over your son as he progresses and my condolences on the loss of your two little boys. May they rest in peace.

  2. Heartfelt says:

    This story is too sad for words. But so is taking three little boys, youngest age 2, out on a sailboat when the water temperature is 40 degrees. My prayers are with the survivor and his family. And my hopes are for better judgment to anyone who thinks about doing this.

    1. Chuck says:

      Why do some people insist on rushing to judge someone despite the unspeakable tragedy that just occurred? Way to go pointing out what you would have done differently. Gold medal for you. On the other hand, everything I’ve read suggests this was a loving family whose dad cared for his kids very much. It’s impossible to predict all possible scenarios and react appropriately every time. He was a seasoned boater and outdoorsman that caught some incredibly bad luck. I’m quite sure they are suffering enough without your advice or comments.