77-year-old Thomas “Tony” Soetaert, a Shawnee, Kansas resident and the city’s former Mayor, was up early on a morning with sub-zero temperatures and encountered trouble while taking his trash out to the curb. The early riser’s quick walk outside at around 3:30 a.m. turned into lengthy exposure to the cold when Tony slipped and fell while trying to push a trash can. The former Mayor was able to crawl into the garage and told KCTV 5 News, "I honked the horn, reached up and honked the horn and I thought for sure that somebody would have heard it, but they didn't."
While there was no response to the car horn, Tony’s other calls for help were answered by an alert newspaper delivery man. Jeff Stockwell was delivering the Kansas City Star newspaper to houses that were not his normal route. He told KSHB 41 Action News, “I’m doing this route until we find a permanent replacement.” Tony’s family is grateful for the chance assignment because Jeff was nearby at around 4 a.m. when he heard what he thought were wails from a cat. “By the time I made the turn around and came back I saw the garage doors were open. I saw a trash can turned sideways in the driveway, and you just had one of those feelings like something’s not right,” the delivery man told KSHB. So Jeff got out of his van and found Tony in his coat, lying on the floor of the garage.
Jeff called 911, then he and the paramedics helped Tony back into the house. Luckily Tony was rescued before frostbite took hold and he was treated for hypothermia at the hospital where his body temperature measured 92 degrees. The septuagenarian’s blistered fingers and aches and pains were cared for and doctors believe he will be okay. As a precaution, Tony was admitted to the intensive care unit overnight for observation.
Tony’s family believes that he may have been exposed outside for 45 minutes. "Bare skin exposed, you can have injuries develop within about 15 minutes," said Dr. Kevin Koch of the Shawnee Mission Medical Center where Tony was admitted. “Numbness progresses and if you don’t get inside in a warm environment, skin starts turning white then later red, and then, then blisters develop that are fluid filled.”
Tony’s daughter Julie King expressed the family’s appreciation, “We’re grateful. We’re very thankful because we know what could have happened if he wouldn’t have come along.” The sentiment was shared by Tony as well saying, "I'm glad he did. I don't know whether I would have made it.”