Staying safe in freezing weather

WASHINGTON, DC -- This cold can be deadly serious.

Hospitals across the region are reporting an uptick in patients with hypothermia, broken bones, heart attacks and trauma from car accidents.

"It is (scary)", says James Vincent Washington, 52 and homeless -- he says by choice. "Especially at night, cause you can slip and fall and hurt yourself, break your hip."

Washington is well aware how dangerous it can be. "I had a friend, his name was Sam, he died at the bus stop. He died of exposure.... it did freak me out, because he was dead all that time sitting there, and we didn't have any idea he was dead. We thought he was just asleep."

In the Emergency Department at at George Washington University Hospital, doctors say cold calls come in waves. First heart attacks from over-eager shovelers, then injuries from falls on ice and trauma from car accidents. And all through the freezing temperatures there's a risk of frostbite and hypothermia. GW Trauma Director, Babak Sarani says he has two patients who presented with core body temperatures almost 20 degrees colder than normal. "At that point, your brain will shut down, your heart will start to shut down, your respiration will start to shut down, you are at imminent risk of death."

Children are even more at risk the cold.

One-month-old Dylan was wailing about his hat and the icy wind. "We wouldn't have gone outside at all," says his mom, Cheryl Aaron. "But he had a pediatrician's appointment that we couldn't reschedule." "Kids have a very high surface area for their weight," says Dr. Sarani. "So they're prone to develop hypothermia much more quickly than an adult."

The risk of hypothermia goes up with time, temperature, wind and water.


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