Teen recovers after near-death hypothermia experience

Austin Seymour, 18, shows off his bandaged hands as he recovers from hypothermia and severe frostbite at the Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis.
Austin Seymour, 18, shows off his bandaged hands as he recovers from hypothermia and severe frostbite at the Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis. Courtesy photo

Austin Seymour says he was three to seven minutes from death.

“I don’t remember everything that happened since the hypothermia was setting in,” the 18-year-old Grand Forks Red River High School senior said of his near-death experience on Jan. 20. “I kind of felt hopelessness setting in.”

Seymour said he left a friend’s house early that night wearing only his Converse sneakers, thin joggers and a hoodie. The temperature was about 18 degrees below zero. A passerby called police after seeing Seymour wandering around. At 1 a.m., a University of North Dakota police officer found him knocking on the doors of University of North Dakota Memorial Stadium.

“I was just knocking on any door that I thought could help,” he said. “I didn’t really know where I was or what I was doing because of the hypothermia.”

Seymour declined to provide other details, citing a pending investigation.

“We're trying to uncover all of the details of what exactly happened that night," Lt. Danny Weigel said Jan. 25. "Hopefully once we get a little farther into the investigation, we'll be able to update the community on where we're at and what occurred."

Seymour said he remembers knocking on doors and desperately trying to find warmth as the minutes ticked by.

Seymour said an officer draped his own jacket over Seymour’s shoulders and helped him into the back of a squad car as they waited for an ambulance to arrive.

“I remember telling him how cold I was and that I thought I was going to die,” Seymour said.

His core body temperature was 90.6 degrees — eight degrees colder than normal. He was outside for between 30 and 40 minutes before being found.

Seymour was brought to Altru Hospital, but doctors determined his frostbite and hypothermia would require more intensive treatment than they were able to provide.

Seymour remembers being covered with warm blankets but could not warm up. He said there was an intense, throbbing pain surging throughout his body.

He was airlifted to Minneapolis.

Once he arrived at Hennepin County Medical Center, doctors began to address the severe frostbite on his fingers. Seymour said surprisingly there was no frostbite on the rest of his body, and his right thumb was also uninjured.

Frostbite treatment is extensive, and Seymour said it involves removing the top layer of skin from his hands. He spent almost two weeks in the hospital and now returns to Minneapolis at least once every other week for specialized treatment. His family started a GoFundMe account to help cover the cost for travel and treatment.

Seymour said he rebandages his fingers daily and works on exercises to regain full movement and control of them. He is finishing his high school classes online in order to graduate on time.

The large bandages limit his movements, and Seymour said he’s constantly in pain. He said he can’t feel things with his fingers, although that’s expected to change, and the pain will subside as his recovery progresses.

“It really does impact daily life,” Seymour said. “I need help with most things, but most things I try to do on my own because it would be really nice to regain my independence. I try my hardest just to do everything I can on my own, but I know my limitations and I know when to ask for help.”

Seymour said recovery is a slow process that can span from six months to a year. He said he’s just thankful to be alive.

“Once I was outside, it all went black pretty quick,” he said. “But that was probably the scariest part, knocking on doors and being in and out of ‘Am I going to get help? Am I ever going to get warm again?’ It was a really scary time.”

Seymour said the experience has made him want to go into the medical field. He said the doctors and nurses in Minneapolis inspired him and he hopes to someday work in a specialized burn and frostbite unit.

“I realized how much help people need in these situations and how much comfort they need,” he said. “It takes a lot. Going through so much pain — I mean, frostbite victims have more pain than just normal burn victims because it goes down to the bone. ... And there are people who are worse off and have it all over are in more need than just people like me and I would just really like to give back.”