Frostbite: An Unknown Danger

This January, Mohamed Ibrahim, MCC’s  former Community Health Worker, visited Mariam and her family to talk about her son’s asthma. While there, he noticed that Said (age 6) was hiding his hands behind his back. When Mohamed asked him why, he saw immediately that Said had severe frostbite. It turned out that Said had spent the last few frigid days playing outside in the snow, even though he’d lost his gloves. No one in Mariam’s family had heard of frostbite before and they were concerned by the painful state of Said’s hands. The story of how his frostbite was finally resolved is continued below, but first we’ll introduce Mariam and her family.

Mariam, a single mother of seven children, moved to the Mankato area last November. She had already lived in the United States for a number of years and become a US citizen, but she relocated to Minnesota to be closer to family. She was referred to MCC Refugee Services by her adult education English school, which let us know that she was living in an apartment in poor condition and was likely in need of help.

MCC’s Community Engagement Specialist, Nancy made her first visit to Mariam and saw the poorly maintained apartment, which was different than the one she had been offered when she toured apartments with the landlord. Cabinets were in such disrepair that they fell off the walls, and the unit had carpet that aggravated her son’s asthma.

Fortunately, United Way funding enables our Mankato office to serve refugees even after their first 5 years in the US and she was quickly enrolled in MCC’s supportive services. The city had been contacted for inspection, which led to her landlord making necessary repairs to her apartment. She also referred Mariam to other MCC staff members including Mohamed for help with health connections, Habiba for assistance in accessing county benefits, and Jaffer to help in her employment search.

Mohamed helped Mariam and her children access the primary care they needed to help them all stay healthy and manage her son’s asthma. When he noticed Said’s frostbitten hands during the visit mentioned earlier, he sprang into action, accompanying them to the ER. Unfortunately, Said was discharged with only ibuprofen and sent home. After 3 days, Mohamed visited again to find that the boy’s hands were badly swollen and likely infected, not to mention very painful. He brought them to urgent care, where they were told they’d need to go to the ER. When they returned to the ER, the doctors again told them they were unable to help and that Said would have to visit a burn unit in Minneapolis, but offered little support in making the appointment or arranging transportation. Through persistent advocacy with the hospital social worker, they were able to obtain an appointment and transportation the next day. After working through the night until 6:30 am, Mariam took a taxi with her son at 7:15 in the morning to head to his appointment. Finally, Said got the treatment and antibiotics he needed and he has regained full use of his fingers.

Jaffer quickly found work for Mariam and she continues to work at the same location, working overnights. He’s been able to help her navigate some necessary absences from work to attend health appointments for her children and make sure that the job is working well for her and her employer.

The difficult situations Mariam and her family faced this winter demonstrated her incredible strength and determination. Her hardships also helped the whole community. MCC staff realized that a significant part of the reason that Said got frostbite was because his school was dismissed at 1pm for a snow emergency, but his mother hadn’t been notified. He stayed out with friends playing in the snow piles while his mother assumed he was at school. This experience made MCC staff realize that other former refugee families were likely also not receiving school notifications and were able to examine the alert systems to find better ways for families to receive this critical information. It also brought knowledge and awareness about frostbite to Mariam’s friends and neighbors within the Somali community.