By Carson Gerber
CNHI News Service
KOKOMO, Ind. - A newspaper carrier saved the life of a 93-year-old who fell inside her apartment and was trapped for nearly three days without food or water.
Esther Wilkins had just returned from church Wednesday evening when she tripped and fell in her kitchen. Earlier in the day she'd taken off her medical alert bracelet, which has a help button for emergencies.
“That night I just had to spread out on the cold tiles on the kitchen floor to sleep,” said Wilkins, who lives alone.
Thus began an ordeal that lasted until Saturday morning, when Wilkins yelled to get the attention of Sam Gregory, 27, as he was hanging a copy of the Kokomo Tribune inside her storm door. Gregory has been delivering the paper for about six months.
On Monday, Wilkins was recovering in the hospital, looking forward to physical therapy and making plans to change her living arrangements so she'll no longer be alone.
“The whole thing was very traumatic," she said, "but I feel like I’m getting back to normal."
After spending Wednesday night on the kitchen floor, Wilkins discovered she could use a chair with wheels to scoot around the apartment. She wasn’t able to stand to reach her phone or the door handle. She managed to switch on the hallway light with her shoe, so she wasn't in the dark.
By Thursday night, she was frantically thinking of ways to get help. She thought of busting a window to shout for help but decided against it. “I kept trying, trying, trying to think of ways, but I just couldn’t get help," she said.
Then, early Friday, Wilkins heard someone at the door and realized it was Gregory delivering the Tribune. He typically hangs the paper inside her storm door so she can easily reach it.
“I called out from the kitchen, ‘Sam, Sam, I need help. This is Esther.’” But she was too far from the door for Gregory to hear, and he moved on.
Later that day, Wilkins began struggling 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.
She became delirious, she said, and saw the black-and-white photos on her wall appear in color and begin to move. Her lips were so parched, she said, she could easily peel off the skin.
Wilkins said she realized Gregory was her only chance. So, early Saturday, she shuffled toward the door and waited for the sound of the storm door.
Sure enough, at around 5 a.m., he arrived with the paper.
Gregory, 27, said he suspected something was amiss when he noticed Wilkins hadn’t gotten her papers for two days. Then he heard her calling out his name.
“Once she knew she had my attention, she really started shouting," said Gregory.
Wilkins shouted to Gregory the combination to a lock box outside her house, where she kept a spare key. He opened the door to find her on the floor. He got her a glass of water, then called for help.
“That was the sweetest glass of water I’ve ever tasted,” she said. “It was so, so good.”
Doctors told Esther she was severely dehydrated. She might have died later that day had she not been found.
“I don’t think I’d still be here if Sam hadn’t found me,” she said.
Carson Gerber is a reporter for the Kokomo, Ind., Tribune.