Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

November 19, 2012

Paper carrier saves life of 93-year-old

Woman goes 3 days without food, water before being found

By Carson Gerber
KOKOMO TRIBUNE

— A newspaper carrier Saturday helped save the life of a 93-year-old woman, who was trapped inside her house for three days without food or water after falling in the kitchen.

Esther Wilkins said she had just gotten back from church Wednesday evening, when she tripped over her feet and fell to the ground inside her house.

“I went flying across the floor and ended up under the kitchen table,” she said Monday from her hospital room at Community Howard Regional Health.

Normally, Esther said she wears a medical alert bracelet with a button to call for help in case of situations just like this, but earlier that day she’d taken it off. She said she lives alone in her home on Elizabeth Street.

“That night I just had to spread out on the cold tiles on the kitchen floor to sleep,” she said.

The next day she discovered she could use a kitchen chair with wheels on it to scoot around the apartment, but she wasn’t able to stand up to reach her phone or her door handle.

But by taking off her shoe, Esther said she could reach the switch to turn on the hallway light, so she didn’t have to sit in total darkness.

By Thursday night, she said she was frantically trying to think of ways to get help. She contemplated breaking out her window to shout for help, but decided against it.

“I just couldn’t get help,” she said. “I kept trying, trying, trying to think of ways, but I just couldn’t get help.”

Then early Friday morning, Esther heard someone at the door. She realized it was her newspaper carrier, Sam Gregory, delivering her daily copy of the Kokomo Tribune.

“I knew he delivered my paper, and he was always so kind,” Esther said, noting Gregory would always hang the paper inside her storm door so she could easily reach it. “I called out from the kitchen, ‘Sam, Sam, I need help. This is Esther.’”

From that distance, however, he couldn’t hear her and moved on.

By Friday, Esther said she struggled with thirst and hunger.

“I didn’t have a drink of water or a bite of food for the whole time I was on the floor,” she said.

Esther was so delirious she said she saw the black-and-white photos on her wall in color, and they were moving. Her lips were so parched she could easily peel off the skin, she said.

But Esther said she realized Gregory was her only chance for help. Early Saturday morning, she shuffled herself towards the door with her chair and waited for the sound of the storm door opening.

Sure enough, at around 5 a.m., he arrived with the paper, and Esther grabbed her chance.

Gregory, 27, said Monday he heard Esther yelling for help. He said he had begun to suspect something was wrong earlier after he noticed she hadn’t gotten her papers for two days.

“I heard her yelling my name and that she needed my help,” he said, noting he’s been a Kokomo Tribune carrier for about six months. “Once she knew she had my attention, she really started shouting.”

In a master-lock box on the door handle to her house, Esther kept an extra key. She shouted out the number code to the box, Gregory opened it, retrieved the key and entered the house.

“I was just shocked,” he said, recalling seeing Esther on the floor. “I’ve never been in that situation before.”

Esther quickly informed Gregory of the situation. The first thing he did was get her a glass of water.

“That was the sweetest glass of water I’ve ever tasted,” Esther said. “It was so, so good.”

Gregory called an ambulance and waited with her until it arrived.

When she got to the hospital, doctors told Esther she was severely dehydrated and might have died later that day without medical treatment.

“I don’t think I’d still be here if Sam hadn’t found me,” she said.

Tina Holtsclaw, a friend who visits Esther a few times a week, said it was a miracle Esther was found when she was.

“Sam could have just walked away, but he didn’t, and I’m so thankful for that,” she said. “I can tell you Esther is going to love him forever.”

And in fact, Esther said she does.

“If he were here in front of me right now, I’d say ‘Sam, you are my hero,’” she said.

Esther reported Monday she’s still bruised, but feeling good, and happy to be alive. She said she’ll likely start therapy today, and plans not to live alone after leaving the hospital.

“The whole thing was very traumatic, but I feel like I’m getting back to normal,” Esther said.

As far as Gregory, he said he was just happy to be at the right place at the right time.

“It’s not every day you get the chance to save somebody’s life,” he said. “It feels pretty good.”

Carson Gerber is a Kokomo Tribune reporter. He may be reached by phone at 765-854-6739, or by email at carson.gerber@kokomotribune.com