Surviving the "Cold Water Challenge"

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cold water challenge - Brandon Ollhoff 5-19-14

The Cold Water Challenge is the latest Facebook fad. It all started about a month ago as a fundraiser for a 6-month-old cancer patient in Missouri.

It works like this - on social media, you dare friends to take the plunge into icy water. Once a person has been nominated, they have 24 hours to post a video of them completing it or pay $100 dollars to charity.

It all seem pretty harmless - and most of the time it is - but we're finding out there are some hidden dangers in the water. A number of injuries have been reported. A 16-year-old Fond du Lac girl hurt her knee causing ligament and muscle damage after jumping into Lake Winnebago. A Michigan man is now paralyzed after he dove into a cold lake. And earlier this month, a 16-year-old in Minnesota drowned after texting a friend saying he was about to do a cold water challenge.

Locally, a Wausau West High School student broke his leg. He now has a plate and 6 pins in his leg. Brandon Ollhoff tells NewsChannel 7, he was nominated by his girlfriend. He and a few of his friends went down to Blue Gill Park in Rib Mountain to fulfill their challenges. Ollhoff says he watched as several of his friends successfully made the chilly jump off the end of the pier. It was then his turn.

Ollhoff says, "My friend was standing at the end of the dock, I was about half way down it." He continued, "I did my video, I looked at her and said 24 hours 'go' to my other friends. And I jumped right off the side."

That was Brandon's biggest mistake. Instead of following suit, and jumping off the end of the dock like the rest of his friends, he landed in some pretty shallow water. With that splash, Brandon says he new something was terribly wrong.

Laurie Ollhoff, Brandon's mom, got the phone call she never expected. She told his friends to bring Brandon home. When she opened up the car door, she knew something was terribly wrong as Brandon's ankle was the size of a softball.

Brandon ended up breaking the bottom part of his fibula. In the process he got 6 pins and a plate with surgery.

Laurie says, "I was upset, but not because he did the challenge. I was upset he was hurt. It was just that momma bear instinct."

Laurie knew Brandon had been nominated to take part in the Cold Water Challenge and tells NewsChannel 7 she was well aware of what he and his friends were off to do that night. Before he left, Laurie said she told him to be careful.

While Brandon's leg will eventually heal, this new Facebook fad that's giving everyone an extreme rush has a number of problems that may not be so forgiving. Dr. Rodney Mayhorn, a cardiologist at Aspirus Wausau Hospital, warns, "A surge of adrenaline is not necessarily a healthy thing if you have heart disease in the form of a prior heart attack, heart failure, or a family history of sudden cardiac death."

This risk may be low for a majority of people, but Dr. Mayhorn says the biggest problems come with in the first three minutes of being in the water - including cold water shock.

He says, "The first initial response is to gasp, so you never want to dive in and have that reflex under water."

In just 5 minutes your muscles can shutdown. Dr. Mayhorn says even the best swimmers can get into trouble in very shallow water. If you're in the water 30 minutes or more, that's when hypothermia can set in.

Even though there are several risks to taking the jump, Dr. Mayhorn says, "Most folks can do this safely in a responsible way."


U.S. Coast Guard offers this advice to keep you safe:

- Never jump in
- Enter the water slowly to avoid shock.
- Go with multiple people
- Make sure someone in the group knows the signs of hypothermia and can perform CPR
- Go to a familiar location
- Don't trespass on state or federal property
- Shallow/Merky water that unfamiliar can be extremely danger - you don't know what's under the surface


Cold Water Challenge vs. Polar Plunge Events

Many NewsChannel 7 viewers have brought up the issue asking what separates the Cold Water Challenge from similar events like a Polar Plunge. Both Dr. Mayhorn and the U.S. Coast Guard says the main difference is at a Polar Plunge there are emergency staff on hand. There are EMTs & ambulances on standby to provide medical care if something were to go wrong. The water that you jump into has been approved and deemed safe - meaning there's nothing dangerous under the water like rocks, debris, etc. Also while you jump, there are usually divers in the water ready to assist you incase you can't make it out on your own.

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