MILWAUKEE — A 2-year-old boy whom a doctor described as "extremely dead" when found in subzero cold wearing only pajamas was listed in good condition Saturday.
The boy, identified only as Michael at his parents' request, suffered no heart or brain damage. He was found frozen in the snow Jan. 19 after wandering outside his home while his father slept.
Doctors said Michael's core body temperature was 60 degrees when paramedics brought him to Milwaukee Children's Hospital. They knew of no one who had survived a core temperature--the temperature of all major organs--that low.
Michael had no vital signs. Nurses who touched him could feel the crunch of ice beneath his skin. Ice crystals had formed on his skin, and his arms and legs were frozen.
"Except for the fact of cold, he was dead, extremely dead. You don't get any deader," Dr. Kevin Kelly, a specialist in the treatment of hypothermia (low body temperature), said.
Except for some skin grafts on his arms and legs and possible minor muscle damage in his left hand, Michael's recovery should be complete, Dr. Thomas Rice said.
"He suffered no heart or brain damage," Rice, chief of the hospital's pediatric intensive-care unit, said. Michael is extremely alert and talks "when he's in the mood," Rice said.
Rice said that the rapid chilling of Michael's body and quick action by hospital personnel saved the boy's life and prevented more serious damage.
The rapid chilling slowed Michael's metabolism so that when he stopped breathing, his demand for oxygen was low. That helped prevent damage to brain cells, Rice said.
Michael had wandered outside his home wearing only his pajamas while his father slept and his 6-year-old sister watched television. At the time, the temperature was 22 degrees below zero and the windchill factor was 60 below zero.
It was not known how long Michael was outside before his father found him. Paramedics took him to the hospital and gave him cardiopulmonary resuscitation until a heart-lung machine was prepared to warm his blood.
After the blood warmed, Michael's arms and legs swelled to twice their normal size when fluid from ice-damaged cells began to leak into surrounding tissues.
Cuts Made in Limbs
Long, deep cuts were made in the boy's arms and legs to allow the swollen tissues to expand, prevent damage to nerves and help speed blood to undamaged tissues.
Skin grafts Thursday covered the cuts and areas damaged by frostbite.
"He'll have some scars and eventually will need some cosmetic surgery," Rice said.
"This is a real tragedy. His mother is a nurse and his father has been laid off. They're a very intact family. This was not a child-neglect case."
Eighteen doctors and a score of nurses helped in the treatment and care in the first six hours after the boy's arrival.
"We were very optimistic that we could save his life from minute one," Rice said.