Deaths, spike in frostbite cases follow Twin Cities' frigid weather

  • Article by: PAT PHEIFER and LAURIE BLAKE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 9, 2014 - 1:33 PM

For hospitals, four days of extreme winter were busy ones.

A four-day stretch of frigid weather has taken its toll, with at least two deaths and dozens of cases of frostbite and hypothermia linked to the brutal cold in and around the Twin Cities.

Minnesota’s two burn centers, which treat frostbite, say they’ve seen a huge spike in cases. Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis, which usually sees 25 to 30 frostbite cases in a year, has already had 35 so far in January, a spokeswoman said. At Regions Hospital in St. Paul, there were 26 cases from Saturday to Wednesday.

Police said Wednesday that they don’t suspect foul play in the case of a Lakeville woman who was found dead on the doorstep of her family’s home, and her mother said she appears to have frozen to death. An autopsy is still pending.

The body of Andrea Marker, 32, was found about 4 p.m. Tuesday outside the house in the 17500 block of Illinois Court, family members said.

Her mother, Sheila Marker, said she had problems with alcohol, although it’s unclear whether that played a role in her death.

Cases compounded by alcohol

Drinking can be a contributor to deaths and hospitalizations related to the cold weather, said Christine Hill, a spokeswoman for HCMC.

“Quite often we find alcohol is a major factor when it comes to frostbite’’ because people are making bad decisions about how to prepare to go out in the weather, she said. People also may not notice the effect of the cold as quickly if they are already numb from alcohol, she said.

Alcohol also hurts by drawing heat from the body core to the skin, doctors say.

Drinking played a role in the case of a University of Minnesota Duluth student who spent a frigid night on a neighbor’s porch Dec. 7. Alyssa Lommel, 19, of St. Cloud, is recovering at Regions, where she had parts of her feet amputated on Monday, according to her CaringBridge website. She had been out drinking before being dropped off by friends.

Another woman was being treated at Regions for frostbite after she was found in a Duluth alley over the weekend, according to the Duluth News Tribune. A passerby saw Erin Coons, 30, shortly after 9:30 a.m. Sunday, and emergency responders estimated she had been exposed  to the frigid conditiions for a few hours. 

Regions has treated seven people for hypothermia since the cold snap began, while six such cases have been reported at HCMC.

Temperatures and windchills in Minnesota plunged well below zero on Saturday night and stayed there for most of the next 96 hours. The high temperature in the Twin Cities on Tuesday, when Marker’s body was found, was 5 degrees, with a low of 15 below, according to the National Weather Service.

Forecasters say relief is finally on the way Thursday, with a high temperature pushing 20 degrees.

Wisconsin woman found dead

The frigid weather also claimed a victim in western Wisconsin on Wednesday morning. A 76-year-old resident of an assisted-living center in Barron, Wis., was reported missing from her room about 4:45 a.m. and found nearby on a frozen creek about 6:15 a.m.

Juanita G. Toews apparently left the Monroe Manor without putting on any cold-weather clothing, according to a news release from Barron, Wis., police.

Authorities followed her tracks along the south side of the building and down to Quarderer’s Creek, where she was found. She was pronounced dead about 7 a.m. at Mayo Clinic Health Systems Barron, the news release said.

  • related content

  • Marker

  • toll from the cold

    2 deaths, one in Lakeville and one in Barron, Wis., are linked to the cold.

    Minnesota’s two burn centers report big frostbite increase:

    • Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis has had 35 cases in January. In a typical year, it has 25 to 30.

    • Regions Hospital in St. Paul had 26 cases from Saturday to Wednesday.

    Frostbite signs

    • Loss of feeling and color in affected areas.

    • Often hits nose, ears, cheeks, chin, fingers, toes.

    • Can cause permanent damage, lead to amputation.

    • Alcohol impairment increases risk.

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Andrea Marker