Les "Paulie" Hynek celebrates his birthday Jan. 15 and his "resurrection" Feb. 27.
It was a decade ago that 25-month-old Les "Paulie" Hynek was wearing only a diaper, footed pajamas and sweatshirt when he laid about 3 1/2 hours outside his rural Eleva home in subzero temperatures.
His body temperature eventually dipped to about 61 degrees, he had no brain activity and his heart stopped for about two hours. But family, physicians, other medical staff and rescue crews never gave up hope of survival.
Ten years later, Paulie is now an active sixth-grader in the Eleva-Strum school district who draws plenty of attention near the anniversary of his remarkable story. Only his left hand shows minor evidence of his escape from death.
"To us, he's just Paulie, one of the kids, but every time you think about it, you realize what a miracle it is to have him around," said his father, Mark Hynek, who has never found enough superlatives to credit those who rescued, treated and cared for his son. "The people who worked on him, well, they are the heroes, the ones who should get all the credit. They saved him."
Paulie wandered out of his family's farmhouse, about 9 miles south of Eau Claire, sometime after 3 a.m. on Feb. 27, 2001. His father frantically searched in the snow and dark and found him about 6:30 a.m., about 50 feet from the house.
The family routinely finished chores in the early-morning hours. Several family members were ill that night, and Paulie didn't see his mother, Cindy, who went to bed while Paulie and Mark were in the living room. The boy apparently went outside to look for her after Mark fell asleep.
Mark checked several rooms before realizing Paulie must have gone outside. He brought the boy inside, where Cindy began CPR. Emergency officials arrived and took over life-saving maneuvers.
Paulie, who had no pulse, respiration or neurological activity, was flown to Luther Hospital.
"I can still see him, laying there in the snow," said Mark, who gets emotional about the recollection. "It was a nightmare. I thought he was dead."
A large wind chime hangs from a tree near the area where Paulie was found. It reminds the family daily of the fragility and value of life.
Trauma surgeon Dr. Brad Grewe spearheaded the emergency medical team that worked on Paulie and utilized the protocol in place at Luther for hypothermia cases.
"I was driving in and getting a page that a kid was flying in and had no signs of life," Grewe said Tuesday, recalling the emergency treatment. "I was going, 'Oh, geez.' "
Dr. Robert Wiechmann, a cardiovascular surgeon at Luther who also was instrumental in the care for Paulie, said the boy's heart had stopped, and he had no blood flow and no brain activity when he arrived at Luther. The heart typically stops beating around 73 degrees.
Wiechmann, who receives a copy of Paulie's report card each year from the family, refers to Paulie's story as miraculous and an optimal example of effort by a health care team, from initial responders to rehabilitation therapists, and all the treatment providers between.
"What stands out is we know how well he's done; that we have this wonderful 12-year-old boy now who's living a normal life," Wiechmann said Friday. "This is a case you do look back on. It's fantastic. It brings back this sort of wave of good feeling and awe."
Wiechmann admits there "is so much that we can't explain. You can explain the science of it; warming somebody and physiology aspect of it, the right way to treat hypothermia, but why doesn't everyone live? They don't get cold the right way. Paulie did."
In Paulie's case, he was breathing, getting oxygen to organs, while he was getting cold, all the way until his heart stopped, Wiechmann said.
Paulie had no brain activity, no signs of life when Wiechmann first saw him 10 years ago, but because he had an ample oxygen supply before his heart stopped, emergency crews realized there was a viable chance for survival.
Tubes filled with warm fluids were placed in the boy's stomach and bladder to raise his body temperature to the mid-70s. Wiechmann and a crew of assistants then used a heart-lung bypass machine to warm the boy's blood more quickly and safely. The machine takes cool blood out of the body, warms it and returns it to the body.
Paulie was on the bypass machine for about 90 minutes before being flown to Rochester, Minn. It was the third time the hospital had used the machine, Wiechmann said. Paulie was the first survivor.
"8:23. 8:23," Mark Hynek recalls. "That's when his heart started beating again. I'll never forget that."
"We've had other spectacular results, but every now and then you get something more sensational," Grewe said. "There (have been) about a dozen patients over the years that I've had that when you see them, you kind of get a little chill; that this person really shouldn't be here now, alive. Paulie is one of those."
Not much has changed in handling emergency hypothermia cases, including use of the bypass machine if necessary, Grewe said. In cases of patients not so profoundly cold, a catheter is placed into large vessels and a machine simulating a heat exchanger circulates a warm solution. It is the same machine used to cool people after cardiac arrest.
Paulie was taken to Mayo Eugenio Litta Children's Hospital in Rochester, where he stayed until March 20, 2001.
Today, there are six Hynek children: Marcus, 14; Axton, 13; Paulie, 12; Matteson, 10; Shelby, 8; and Bailey, 2 1/2 .
On the anniversary of Paulie's miraculous episode, the family celebrates with cake and ice cream, just as if it was his birthday, Paulie said Thursday.
"It's just something we do to remember that day," he said with a big grin. "I just kind of look at the whole thing that I came back from kinda being dead, and a lot of people helped me do that. It was pretty special."
Paulie has hopes of someday being an actor, largely because his friends say he exhibits traits for that vocation, he said. But for now, he plays football, enjoys the Guitar Hero video game and helps out with chores on the family's 160-acre farm.
At 12, he doesn't have any philosophical reasons why he survived, but says his story might be an inspiration to some.
"I hope it gives hope to others, to never give up," he said, again flashing a smile while standing restlessly in the milk house. "The doctors and others never gave up on me, and I'm here."
Paulie's story received national fame and a report by a Twin Cities television station is still shown for new Luther Midelfort employees, according to hospital officials.
"It verifies again the things you read in textbooks and articles, that if you do all these things that sometimes it's successful," Grewe said about the protocol, which is in place at every hospital, all of which have numerous success stories.
"At Luther Midelfort, for us, the event instills a sense of pride for all the people who work here," Grewe said, adding that it was a "team effort," including staffs at Luther and Mayo Clinic, where Paulie received intensive pediatric care. "It was a cool example of seamless integrated care ... a well coordinated dance."
"I have been counting the years and will continue to count the years," Mark Hynek said. "You don't forget. Every day on the farm with Paulie is special, just like with all the other kids. We love 'em all."
Ten years ago, the media, including national television network news shows, swarmed the family farm to the point where police had to set up a barrier. The hospital staged promotional pictures of Paulie's discharge the day before he actually left because of reporters.
Paulie has said he doesn't recall the incident that landed him in the center of it all.
"I gotta get back to chores," he said recently with a grin and handshake. "I got things to do."
Copyright (c) 2011, The Leader-Telegram, Eau Claire, Wis./Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.