'Alcohol is not for the young' warns teen who suffered severe frostbite after passing out in the snow

A Manitoba teen is cautioning other kids about underage drinking, after he blacked out following a night of binge drinking and woke up hours later in a snow-filled ditch.

Brandon Charlette, 14, says he blacked out Monday evening and woke up hours later in a snow-filled ditch

Brandon Charlette, 14, was drinking with friends Monday night when he blacked out and woke up in the snow hours later. He has severe frostbite on his fingers, knees and side. (Holly Caruk/CBC)

A Manitoba teen is cautioning other kids about underage drinking, after he suffered severe frostbite when he blacked out following a night of binge drinking Monday and woke up hours later in a snow-filled ditch.

Brandon Charlette, 14, suffered frostbite on his fingers, knees and right hip after spending up to eight hours out in the cold, wearing just a light jacket, T-shirt and pants.

"I was out drinking with a couple buddies … and I blacked out," said Charlette.

"I woke up and I was in the snow, and I couldn't really stand, so I started crawling," he said.

Around 4:30 a.m. Tuesday, Gimli RCMP were called with a report of a 14-year-old male lying in the snow. He was taken by ambulance to hospital with injuries related to being out in the cold for an extended period of time.

The Riverton, Man., teen doesn't remember much about what happened that night. His parents and sisters were in Winnipeg on Monday for medical appointments, and couldn't make it home that evening because a storm rolled in.

Some of the highways in the area were closed, and Charlette's father, Richard Haut, said the roads were icy and there was blowing snow.
The teen and his dad hope Charlette's story will serve as a lesson to other youth about the dangers of underage drinking. (Holly Caruk/CBC)

Haut said he and his wife were on their way back to the family home in Riverton, about 125 kilometres north of Winnipeg, in the early evening but decided to turn back and spend the night in the city.

When they called home to tell their son they couldn't make it, they couldn't reach him.

"I left several messages on the answering machine at home, and after 10:00 I knew something was wrong," said Haut.

He called neighbours in the town of just over 500 people, but no one knew where Charlette was.

Teen woke up in a snow-filled ditch

The Grade 9 student said the last thing he remembers is going to a friend's house, about a 10-minute walk away from his home, to hang out with friends.

"We found a bottle, started drinking out of it and that's all I remember," said Charlette.

The teen said he arrived at his friend's place around 6 p.m. and said he thinks the group left the home around 8:00 to walk home.

"I'm not sure what happened to my friends but I guess I got left behind," said Charlette.

"They were pretty intoxicated too, so they don't know what happened," he said.

We found a bottle, started drinking out of it and that's all I remember.- Brandon Charlette

Charlette said he left his parka at his friend's place, and didn't have a hat or gloves with him.

The next thing he remembers is waking up in the snow. He was just two houses away from where the party was, and he began crawling back to the home.

When he finally made it,  shortly after 4 a.m., an adult there called an ambulance.

Charlette believes he was out in the cold for up to eight hours. The temperature dropped to –12 C that night, and the wind was gusting up to 50 km/h.

With the windchill, it would have felt closer to –22 and exposed skin would freeze in about 40 minutes.

'Lucky to be alive'

Haut said he and his wife got the call from hospital around 6 a.m. They drove out to Arborg, where Charlette was first taken. The teen was later transported to Winnipeg.

Charlette said when he started to sober up, he realized just how bad the situation was.

"I was scared, I was in pain, I just thought I was lucky — lucky to be alive."

Haut said the ordeal has been extremely stressful for the family.

"Once we seen the condition he was in, we were really freaked out. We thought he was gonna lose his hands," he said.
Charlette has severe frostbite on his right side, as shown above, as well as on his knees and fingers. (Holly Caruk/CBC)

Charlette says his condition is improving and doctors have told him he won't need surgery or amputations.

His fingers are covered in blisters, and his knees and a patch on his right side are dark purple and peeling.

Haut said the doctors think his son put his thumbs in his mouth to keep them warm, because only his fingers were affected.

'Alcohol is not for the young'

Charlette said he's experimented with drinking a few times in the past, but never like this.

Now the teen wants other kids to know that drinking isn't worth it.

"Alcohol is not for the young. It's not for kids, it's not for youth," he said.

"It's dangerous, it's not fun."

The teen said he likely won't drink again for a long time, and encourages other kids his age to listen their parents.

"I just think I shouldn't be alive, you know? Nobody survives that type of stuff."

Haut said he still doesn't know how the teens ended up with the alcohol, and plans to meet with other parents in the town to talk about what happened.
A Manitoba teen is cautioning other kids about underage drinking, after he suffered severe frostbite when he blacked out following a night of binge drinking Monday and woke up hours later in a snow-filled ditch. 2:31

"We all try to look out for the kids. We are always talking and communicating, but there's only so much we can do," he said.

"This was a near-death situation. He almost died on us."

Haut has questions about what happened that night but says the teens involved aren't talking, and many of them don't remember what happened either.

"I was angry because why was he left alone? Why did everybody leave him? Why did he even leave the house where he was?"

He said he hopes both parents and the teens will learn a lesson from his son's experience.

"There's a reason why there's limits and age limits to access this stuff. They have to respect that," said Haut.

Charlette said he doesn't blame anyone for what happened to him.

"It's nobody's fault but mine," he said.

Drinking more common than smoking among teens

Binge drinking is more common than smoking among teens and young adults, Statistics Canada says.

Heavy or binge drinking is defined as having several drinks in one sitting: five or more drinks for a male, and four or more for a female, at least once a month in the past year.

According to Stats Can, in 2013, nearly 25 per cent of Canadians males and 13 per cent of females over age 12 reported heavy drinking.

More than 14 per cent of males and 12 per cent of females age 12-17 reported heavy drinking.

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About the Author

Holly Caruk

Video Journalist

Holly Caruk is a video journalist with CBC Manitoba. She began her career as a photo journalist in 2007 and began reporting in 2015. Born and raised in Manitoba, Holly is a graduate of the University of Manitoba's film studies program and Red River College's creative communications program. Email: holly.caruk@cbc.ca