Fargo teen hospitalized after being found in subzero temps

8:50 AM, Jan 5, 2010   |    comments
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Jake Eichelberger

MINNEAPOLIS -- A teenager from Fargo is hospitalized tonight in Minneapolis after wandering in frigid temperatures for hours.

He had actually taken off his jacket and his shoes and was found trying to get inside a church early New Year's Day.

His family hopes it can be a lifesaving reminder for anyone in these freezing temperatures.

Recovering from his severely frostbitten feet at Hennepin County Medical Center, 18-year-old Jacob Eichelberger is choosing not to talk today.  But he and his family do want to send a message, that alcohol and the bitter cold can be deadly.


His aunt, Julie Helm, says, "He is grateful to be here with us and alive.  The doctor told him when they found him that he had only 45 minutes before he would have been gone."


Helm says Eichelberger was at a house party in Fargo on New Years Eve.  She says, "People that purchase alcohol for kids that are not of age need to quit."


It's unclear how much alcohol Eichelberger had, if much at all, although police do say it was a factor.  But eventually he ended up outside where Helm says it was 7 below with a 30 below windchill and he became hypothermic.


Gina Cincinelli, a physician's assistant in burn and plastic surgery at HCMC says, "When your internal core body temperature drops, you immediately become disoriented."


Helm says Eichelberger called someone at 1:30 a.m.  She says, "He was confused from the cold and he didn't know where he was."


So family, friends and police searched for him for hours.


Helm says, "His mom gave him a necklace of a cross with wings that he has on his neck right now.  And he held onto that the whole time and prayed that somebody would find him and save him."


She says the only reason he was found was that he was trying to break into this church and someone called police.  His shoes and coat were gone.


Helm says the doctor told them that when someone becomes hypothermic, "you get hot and you start shedding your clothing."


Initially it was feared Eichelberger would need both feet amputated.  But he was taken to HCMC and treated with TPA, a drug often used to treat stroke.


Cincinelli says, "It actually increases the blood flow to the affected extremities or digits."


So now the damage appears to be much less.


Cincinelli says, "He will likely, maybe lose a big toe, a great toe out of this thing."


Currently there are four people with severe frostbite hospitalized at HCMC, and many more being treated. 


Eichelberger is in serious condition. 


While his aunt says its unclear how much alcohol, if much at all, he consumed, Cincinelli says any amount can be dangerous when it's this cold. 

(Copyright 2010 by KARE. All Rights Reserved.)

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