Yukon doctor hopes to take sting out of frostbite

Whitehorse General Hospital general surgeon Dr. Alex Poole and local pharmacist Josianne Gauthier have brought a new treatment for frostbite to the Yukon.

Whitehorse General Hospital general surgeon Dr. Alex Poole and local pharmacist Josianne Gauthier have brought a new treatment for frostbite to the Yukon.

The treatment is designed for use in patients with severe frostbite and involves combining the standard technique of rapidly rewarming affected areas with the drug iloprost. Iloprost is used to treat pulmonary arterial hypertension — a form of high blood pressure which affects arteries linking the heart and the lungs.

“The iloprost dilates the blood vessels … so we’re basically using it to reopen the blood vessels as we rewarm the skin to prevent fingers and toes from dying,” Poole said.

When frostbite occurs, the blood vessels in the affected tissues contract and spasm when they warm up. That can cause severe tissue damage through inflammation and clotting. At its worst, this process can ultimately require amputation, Poole said. Fingers and toes are especially susceptible.

Two Yukon Arctic Ultra runners who had suffered severe frostbite were treated using this method at WGH over the course of two months. Both patients recovered without amputation and with minimal long-term effects from their injuries. The results were published as a case study in the December 2016 issue of the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

The treatment would later be used on six more patients, all Yukoners, who would recover similarly, said Poole.

The combination treatment can reduce the risk of amputations in patients with severe frostbite by up to 50 per cent, he said.

Poole said this combination treatment is more effective than rewarming alone, but it’s not a cure-all. Poole said people who think they might have frostbite should take proper care of their injuries, rewarming the affected area if possible in a tub and then seeking medical attention.

One danger of frostbite is that it can take time for people to realize how seriously they’ve been injured, Poole said. “Initially, frostbite may not look like much, just grey or pale skin … progressing to grey blisters and rawness and then blackened fingers or toes,” he said. “That black flesh means the digits have died.”

The treatment is new to North America but common in Europe, where iloprost is approved for sale. The drug is not approved for use in Canada and Poole and Gauthier had to get special permission from the federal government to import and use the drug in the Yukon. They have to order the drug in limited quantities, but are allowed to keep some in stock, Poole said.

“This treatment has caused a firestorm (in North America) now that we’ve used it,” he said. “Everyone is asking themselves why we weren’t doing it before.”

The Yukon sees two to three cases of severe frostbite a year, Poole said. Clinics will also be stocking the drug in Watson Lake and Dawson City.

Contact the Yukon News at editor@yukon-news.com

Just Posted

Poor Creature, Yukonstruct have their day in court

Lawyers for each side accused the other of misrepresenting the situation

Second attempted murder charge laid in downtown Whitehorse shooting

Two men are now facing a total of 17 charges in relation to the shooting outside the Elite Hotel

Child Development Centre marks 40 years of service

CDC now serves families throughout the territory

Triple J’s expands offerings with new skin care line

The products feature Canadian ingredients and environmentally-friendly packaging

Relatives of pedestrian struck in 2001 urge change after latest fatality at the intersection

‘I don’t know what the solution is, but I just think something needs to be done’

Arctic Sports Inter-School Championship draws athletes from as far as Juneau

The three-day event included more than 300 participants from kindergarten to Grade 12

Access road to Telegraph Creek now open

Ministry has spent $300K to date on work to clear rockslide

Freedom Trails responds to lawsuit

A statement of defence was to the Yukon Supreme Court on Nov. 19.

Whitehorse RCMP seeking suspects after robbery at Yukon Inn

Robbery took place in early hours of Nov. 27, with suspects armed with a knife and “large stick”

Yukonomist: Your yogurt container’s dirty secret

You should still recycle, but recycling one might be giving you a false sense of environmental virtue

History Hunter: New book tells old story of nursing in the Yukon

Author Amy Wilson was a registered nurse in the Yukon from 1949 to 1951

Jack Hulland wins 2019 Yukon Elementary School Hockey Tournament

The one-day tournament featured nearly a dozen teams from Whitehorse, Dawson City and Teslin

City news, briefly

Some of the decisions that were made at the Nov. 25 Whitehorse city council meeting

Most Read