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Boy who froze to death and came back reflects on ‘second chance’

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    EAU CLAIRE, Wisconsin (WCCO) — A frantic father placed a haunting call to a western Wisconsin dispatcher 20 years ago. His 2-year-old son froze to death.

WCCO documented Paulie Hynek’s incredible fight to come back to life back then.

We returned to the family farm just south of Eau Claire where decades later a young man has a deep appreciation for every day.

“Probably a subconscious state of just knowing you got a second chance. If things are good or bad you’re going to keep going. Things got pretty bad that day, you know what I mean? And I kept going. I figure that’s where that comes from,” Paulie Hynek told us now at 22 years old.

On a dairy farm in a town of barely 700 people, moving forward is a matter of survival.

“That’s how family farms work,” Paulie Hynek said.

It’s no different for the Hyneks, caring for 72 cows, producing some 500 gallons of milk a day.

“You get to do what you want but you get yelled at a lot,” Paulie said jokingly.

“We can say stuff to each other and still work side by side. We’re a team,” Mark Hynek said.

Only, during this winter and this week that team can’t help but look back.

It was 2 a.m. on Feb. 27, 2001, and below zero.

“He’s lying in the snow there eyes wide open. Coldest night of the year,” Mark Hynek said back in 2001.

“His hands when I picked him up they were frozen from the wrist on down,” he also said.

“Paulie. Paulie. Paulie,” Mark can be heard saying on the 911 call that morning as he tried to get him to wake up.

The 2-year-old went looking for his mom in the barn after he’d fallen asleep in the living room.

“They said I laid down and froze to death,” Paulie says now pointing to a snowbank on the sidewalk.

WCCO asked him why he thinks he’s still here.

“Right place, right time, you know what I mean. It took a lot of people to get it right, too,” Paulie said.

Doctor Robert Wiechmann is a cardiovascular surgeon at Mayo’s Luther Campus in Eau Claire.

Where Paulie was flown that February morning.

“He got disoriented and cold and laid down and fell asleep and ultimately died from hypothermia,” Wiechmann said.

The boy’s body temperature reached 60 degrees. Wiechmann told WCCO then a heart stops beating at 72.

WCCO asked Wiechmann then if he brought Paulie back to life.

“Well, we warmed him up,” he said.

The team performed cardio pulmonary bypass. Amazingly, he refers to it as a simple operation where they warmed Paulie’s blood to restart his heart.

“There’s so much more to this than medicine. You could have this same scenario 10 more times and maybe never have an outcome like this,” Wiechmann said.

“Have I seen this work again? No,” he added.

“This one was insulated underneath my chest, apparently, and this one was out like that,” Paulie Hynek explained.

A swollen smaller left hand and slightly shorter leg are Paulie’s only scars.

“My grip strength isn’t the best but I think it’s probably better than most,” he added.

If he’s not on the farm, you’ll find Paulie at the gym alongside his older brother.

“It’s a stress reliever. Probably the best part of my day you know,” Paulie said.

As a high school graduate and athlete, he’s like many in their 20s still wondering what’s next.

“You got to say yourself like what am I here for? You know what I mean, like, your life was saved so what are you going to do with it? And I guess in a way I’m still trying to figure that out,” Paulie admitted.

What Paulie will eventually learn is his life saved his parents that day.

“I don’t have to think of the what ifs, burial, a cemetery, a headstone. I got what I wanted. I got what I wished for. What I prayed for,” Mark Hynek said.

“I got my boy back, got a second chance,” he added.

The chance to watch a son grow up and keep going together.

“No matter how good or bad life gets it’s always a beautiful thing you know,” Paulie said.

Wiechmann still sees Paulie from time to time at the grocery store or Fleet Farm. His parents used to send the doctor a copy of Paulie’s report card every year as a sign of thanks for saving his life.

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