As a powerful storm battered western New York with blinding blizzard conditions in the early hours of Christmas Eve, a Buffalo woman jumped into action when she saw a man who was caught in the storm.
Sha’Kyra Aughtry said she was home when she heard someone screaming on her street. When she looked out her window, she saw a man calling for help in the frigid cold.
Aughtry’s boyfriend carried the man, 64-year-old Joe White, into the house, and she used a blow dryer to melt the ice off his red and blistered hands and used a “grass cutter” to take his rings off, she said in a Facebook livestream.
When the Buffalo woman tried to call emergency responders for help, no one came, she said. And without a background in medical care, Aughtry said she became worried for his safety.
She took to Facebook to share what had happened and plead for help.
“I’m going crazy because I’m scared,” she said on the livestream. “I’m starting to see his body change too much from the time that I had him – his body has changed rapidly every hour.”
As the storm buried Buffalo in thick snow, emergency responders were unable to respond to calls for hours over the weekend – with ambulances and rescue crews even getting stuck in the snow, Erie County officials have said at press conferences.
At least 37 weather-related deaths have been confirmed in New York’s Erie County, including three attributed to EMS delays, according to County Executive Mark Poloncarz.
With no one coming to help, Aughtry said she was scared for White’s life.
“I’ve called the National Guard. I’ve called 911. I’ve called everybody – they just keep telling me I’m on a list. I don’t want to be on a list,” Aughtry said on her livestream. “I don’t care about nothing else. This man is not about to die over here.”
Eventually, she said, her pleas were answered.
Aughtry posted another Facebook livestream of her and a group of men taking White to a hospital on Christmas night. “I’m in the car with him and some nice Samaritans that came and snowplowed us out,” she said.
One of the men said he saw her first Facebook livestream and came over to help, according to Aughtry.
The livestream shows Aughtry reassuring White in the back of the car on the way to the hospital.
“You’re doing an excellent job, Joe,” she said. “You’ve just got to breathe, right?”
Family says frostbitten man is recovering
White is now recovering in the ICU with fourth-degree frostbite after arriving the hospital Sunday night, his sister Yvonne White told CNN.
“I’m hoping and praying for the best,” she said.
Yvonne White said it was a “miracle” that her older brother, who is developmentally disabled and lives in a group home, remembered her phone number when Aughtry took him in.
White’s employer, Ray Barker, said White got disoriented after leaving his group home on Christmas Eve morning during the snowstorm.
Barker added White may have thought he needed to go to work, even though he had the day off.
“He was in a mess,” Barker told CNN. “And (Aughtry) clearly saved his life.”
White’s sister was also grateful to Aughtry, who she says now feels like family.
“We were all trying to help each other and it was wonderful,” she told CNN. “And now I feel like I have a sister and three nephews,” she said, referring to Aughtry and her sons.”
Barker is the program director of North Park Theater, where White works, and has known him for more than 30 years. White is the longest serving employee of the theater, having worked there since 1980.
“The theater is really his whole life,” Barker told CNN.
“We’ve been worried sick about Joe,” Barker said. “We know that he’s getting good medical care at the moment and we can’t wait for him to get back to the theater.”
The theater started fundraisers for Aughtry and for White, which have together raised over $50,000, and the theater honored Aughtry and her boyfriend Trent with a message on its marquee.
“Thank you Sha’Kyra and Trent. Get well soon, Joe,” it reads.