LITTLETON, Colo. (KDVR) — Extreme cold has officially arrived in Colorado, prompting warnings from doctors to avoid extended periods of time outside.

“The colder that it is outside, the shorter that it takes to get frostbite,” said UCHealth’s Dr. Arek Wiktor. “Wind chill is really important, because when it’s windy and cold, you can actually get frostbite in a matter of minutes.”

Frostbite nearly claimed a man’s feet

It’s a story Alec Grimes knows all too well after finding himself in the UCHealth Burn and Frostbite Center in 2016. 

Grimes was visiting friends in Fort Collins when he decided to walk about 2 miles to his brother’s house, wearing regular tennis shoes and thin socks. He said temperatures that night were -14 with wind chill, but his cell phone was dead, and he didn’t realize the risk he was taking until it was too late.

After arriving at his brother’s house, severe frostbite had taken over his toes and feet, which were turning black and purple.

“They were really cold, and he described them as ice packs,” Grimes said.

He was airlifted to the UCHeath Burn and Frostbite Center, where doctors were able to overcome long odds to save his feet.

“At that point, blood wasn’t flowing in my feet, it was kind of crystalized,” he said. “So that’s why they were worried they’d need amputation because they didn’t have blood flow to my feet.”

How to avoid frostbite in the arctic cold

The UCHealth Burn and Frostbite Center sees about 30-60 frostbite cases a year, depending on weather cycles.

“We’ve seen patients who were shoveling snow and got frostbite in their hands and toes because they stayed out too long,” Wiktor said. “So if you notice that your hands feel cold or start to tingle, it’s important to take a break.”

Wiktor recommends taking frequent breaks and wearing dry gloves and socks each time you go back outside. He said amputation risk is significantly lower if you seek medical treatment within 24 hours, so act quickly if you think you may have frostbite. 

Limit time outside, frostbite victim warns

Grimes said it’s important to limit time outside in these temperatures to avoid the pain he’s experienced.

“It was very painful, probably one of the most painful things of my life,” he said. “Not an enjoyable experience.”

Grimes now collects warm clothing to donate to the center for people experiencing homelessness. This year, he said they were able to collect about 40 trash bags full of warm clothes.

“It may seem so small, like, ‘Oh, it’s just socks or gloves,’ but it does make a difference,” he said. “Just handing out a simple pair of gloves to make sure someone doesn’t have to deal with this, it really goes a long way.”