A University of Minnesota Duluth student who suffered severe frostbite after a night in subzero temperatures is now walking normally, handling everyday tasks, and planning to return to school next fall.
Alyssa Lommel told the St. Cloud Times that she's had some difficult days over the past four months, including dealing with the loss of parts of her hands and feet. She said she's gotten through the hard times with the support of friends, family and strangers.
"There was tears shed and it was definitely hard, but after a while you realize, 'That's just me,'" Lommel said. "That is how I am. This is the new me."
Lommel, 19, was found unconscious in Duluth on Dec. 7. She had been outside for nine hours on a night when temperatures got as low as minus 17 degrees. Her body temperature had dropped to 79 degrees Farenheit, which is a few degrees below the point at which the heart stops functioning normally, and her hands had swollen to three times their normal size.
She spent weeks in a coma at the burn center at St. Paul's Regions Hospital. Doctors cut open her arms to relieve swelling and restart circulation, and cut open her stomach to give her lungs room to expand.
"We were all prepared to say goodbye at one point," said her mother, Teri Lommel.
Just four months later, though, Alyssa Lommel is walking normally and no longer needs special boots to protect skin grafts on her heels. She uses special tools to put on makeup and feed herself, and can even text and use touch-screen computers.
She is currently living at her parents' house in St. Cloud. Despite amputations up to the knuckles of fingers on both hands and parts of both her feet, the college sophomore plans to return to the Duluth campus in the fall to continue her studies in psychology and sociology.
"Obviously, there is going to be a lot of work that needs to be done, but my goal is to be up in Duluth in the fall," Lommel said. "I have all my classes picked out with the times and everything. I'm one of those nerds - I'm so excited to get back to school."
Each step in her recovery has pushed her on to something new. After using a feeding tube, she was allowed to eat applesauce. After only being allowed to consume thick liquids, she was able to drink a Diet Coke. Each time she went to physical therapy, she was able to walk farther.
"Alyssa has an inner strength," said Mikki Rothbauer, a social worker at Regions. "She handled everything the same: She is overwhelmed, she thinks it through, she deals with head-on and then she overcomes it."
"I can do anything if I put my mind to it. It's just different than how I used to," she said.
At first, Lommel covered her amputations in public. Now, she goes out just as she is.
"Now I'm just confident - 'This is who I am,"' Lommel said. "If you want to look and stare, go ahead. If you have questions, just ask. I am happy with where I am today."
Since the incident, many people have speculated about how Lommel ended up in the cold overnight.
"People can say that I was underage drinking in college and that's what caused it, but in reality had it been a sunny day, I would've woken up and been like, 'Oh my gosh, what am I doing here,"' Lommel said. "I just want people to be aware that this happens to people all the time, unfortunately. Beware of the cold."
Lommel said that before this experience, she thought she wanted to be an addictions counselor. Now she wants to be a social worker.
"I've always wanted to help other people," Lommel said. "Now I am in a position where I have been through a lot and I can help other people realize that they can come through, too."
Information from: St. Cloud Times