Interview with Gordon Giesbrecht, PhD



Gordon Giesbrecht, PhD is a professor of thermophysiology and the Director of the Laboratory for Exercise and Environmental Medicine at the University of Manitoba. He has authored over 100 articles on cold physiology. An excellent speaker and educator, considering the number of times he has been intentionally hypothermic, he also has a great sense of humor. He has been known to refer to the Alaskan Panhandle as “ U.S. occupied British Columbia.”


WMN: Was there an event in your personal life, or education, that sparked your interest in what happens to the human body when it begins to cool below our normal core temperature?

GG: Well, in the late 1970’s and early 80’s I was a wilderness instructor in the Rockies. Mountain climbing, rock climbing, white water canoeing, ski touring and stuff like that, and getting cold, or staying warm I should say, becomes very important when you are pursuing those activities. Then when I returned to Winnipeg to do a Masters at the University of Manitoba I found a physician named Gerry Bristow who was willing to provide medical oversight while we actually made people hypothermic. I didn’t think we would be able to do that and when I found out I thought I’d died and gone to heaven.


WMN: Dr. Hamlet has postulated for years that growing up in a cold weather environment changes how a person reacts to getting cold and their attitude about cold weather. In essence, if you grew up where it gets cold you more aware of the real dangers and less likely to be frightened of the cold. Do you share that assessment?

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A Winter Primer: Cold Injuries Overview

In North America we are in the depths of winter, and, here in the White Mountains of northern New Hampshire, the days are short, the snow is deep, and you dress in layers to stay warm. The winter extremes also tend to make our mountain rescues longer and harder due to the very real impact that the cold has on our patients as well as on the rescuer teams.


This edition of the WMNL is a Winter Primer dedicated to the cold-related injuries brought on by the winter world that some of us have chosen to live in. We will discuss who we are as an animal and our limitations in the cold along with the specific cold-related injuries and their recognition, management, and prevention.




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Frozen Mythbusters

Recently, I (Frank) had the delightful opportunity to spend several days with Gordon and Murray as we taught together at the Northern NH EMS Conference and the Harry McDade Hypothermia Conference. As usual we took great joy in the opportunity to discuss current research, current classroom information, and a variety of rescues involving hypothermia and other cold-related injuries. We recognize that even though there is abundant scientific information, there are still many old wives’ tales and misinformation that are being taught, passed on, and utilized in patient care. There appears to be some bad data in education which is causing rescuers to provide inappropriate patient care that can be deleterious to their patients. So, we decided to take a look at the many myths and misinformation that seem to surround cold physiology and cold-related injuries.

November/December 2004  ISSN-1059-6518  Volume 17 Number 6

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