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Department of Surgery News Archive

February 2017

Phone call to UCH saves skier's toes

Kelsey Malin

Kelsey Malin spent 52 hours in the backcountry of Monarch Mountain, making a snow cave to survive each night. Initially, doctors thought she would lose all ten of her toes to frostbite.

Kelsey Malin and a friend, both ski instructors, were skiing near Monarch Mountain this past January, exploring fresh powder, when they unknowingly crossed the boundary of the ski area and entered the back country. By the time they realized they were outside the patrolled area, it was snowing hard, and they had no idea how to get back. They had no cell-phone reception, no food, and no water.

They ended up spending two nights on the mountain in sub-freezing temperatures. Kelsey and her friend used all the survival skills they knew to stay alive. If they had not built snow caves to spend the night in, they would have frozen to death. Finally, they crossed paths with a back-country skier, who called in the Monarch Ski Patrol for a search-and-rescue.

After being rescued, the two were taken to a hospital in Salida. Kelsey had long since lost all feeling in her toes, which had turned dark purple.  She was initially told that she would probably lose all ten of her toes due to severe frostbite.

Luckily, the medical staff in Salida knew of a place they could turn for expert advice: the Burn Center at University of Colorado Hospital. Because frostbite and burns cause similar kinds of tissue damage, burn surgeons are the specialists with the most expertise in treating frostbite. And UCH happens to have the only Burn Center in the state of Colorado that is verified by the American Burn Association.

The phone call to UCH completely changed Kelsey’s prognosis. Thanks to a treatment involving a medicine initially developed for victims of strokes and heart attacks, she ended up keeping all ten of her toes.

For the full story, watch the video on the 9 News website.