British Columbia

B.C. doctor working to bring in new drug to help frostbite victims avoid amputation

Dr. Jamie Wilkie is confident the medication will be available to patients in northern B.C. next year.

Iloprost improves blood flow and is proven to help compromised limbs recover

Frostbite occurs when skin and underlying tissues freeze from exposure to extreme cold. In severe cases, it can lead to amputation.

Frigid temperatures can cause frostbite in a matter of minutes and a B.C. doctor is hoping access to a drug that decreases the likelihood of limb amputation will be made available to patients suffering in the northern part of the province.

Dr. Jamie Wilkie, who lives in Fort St. John, is working with Northern Health to bring in Iloprost, a medication that can prevent frozen tissue from dying and help limbs recover. Wilkie wants Iloprost made available at the local emergency room as soon as possible.

According to Wilkie, the Fort St. John Hospital will be the first place in the province with a protocol to administer the drug, which is already available in the Yukon at Whitehorse General Hospital and has been credited with helping patients there hold on to compromised limbs.

"They become infected and to protect the rest of the body from the infected dead tissue, we do end up sending people for amputation," said Wilkie Tuesday on Daybreak North. "Hopefully [Iloprost] will limit the number of fingers and toes that require amputation."

Frostbite is the result of decreased blood flow, turning limbs "waxy and white." Cold enough temperatures can cause blood to stop moving altogether and freeze, resulting in blisters and sometimes irreversible damage to limbs.

Permission required

At present, Wilkie said the primary care method for frostbite in B.C. is to slowly rewarm the frozen limbs, apply dressing to them to prevent infection and monitor closely.

Iloprost, which is administered intravenously, acts to dilate blood vessels and improve blood flow which Wilkie says is more effective at treating compromised limbs.

To administer the drug, Fort St. John Hospital will need permission from Health Canada for special access and Wilkie said that application is currently being worked on. 

Wilkie said he hopes Iloprost will be available in Fort St. John this winter but can not guarantee it. He is confident it will be stocked for 2021.

Whitehorse General Hospital successfully applied for access and has had Iloprost on hand since 2016.

Northern Health said it supports Wilkie's push to make the drug accessible.

When extreme cold hits, frostbite can set in within minutes. Dr. Jamie Wilkie of Fort St. John has experienced it firsthand, and he's working to bring in a new medication that helps treat extreme frostbite without having to take dire measures. 6:55

With files from Daybreak North

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