What was supposed to be a quick errand turned into an 18-hour ordeal for an Oregon woman in her seventies, when her arm was trapped in the trunk of her car for 18 hours in a remote area of the state, police said.
In fact, the conditions were so harsh that Lt. Mike Penunuri of the Molalla Fire Department said he himself might not have been able to endure what she did.
“Hand trapped, you can’t kneel or sit on the hood, and you are in a standing position for 18 hours. It actually snowed on her throughout the night,” Penunuri told ABC News today. “It took a very strong will to survive that.”
The woman, whose name is not being released due to privacy practices, ventured outside at 5 p.m. Wednesday for what was supposed to be a quick trip to the car, but a gust of wind sent the hood of the truck slamming down on the woman’s arm, police said.
She was eventually discovered by her neighbors who happened to be passing nearby on horseback, police said.
The neighbors “heard her cries for help and split up looking for where they were coming from,” Penunuri said. “They estimate that it took an hour from when they first heard the calls to when they found her.”
To paint a picture of what Molalla, a remote part of Oregon, looks like, the closest neighbors were 3 to 5 miles away, said Penunuri.
He was in fact one of the first to arrive on the scene, which he described as a woodsy, rural and rugged area with logging work going on.
The street leading to the woman’s house had a small access road big enough for a pickup truck, but not an ambulance or fire truck, Penunuri said, noting he and his partner had to pick the woman up in a lightweight rescue vehicle and drive her to an ambulance, which was staged up on the larger part of the road.
The woman was wearing heavy clothing and that may have saved her life, Penunuri said. Overnight temperatures dipped to just above freezing that night.
“She was dressed in several layers of clothing, several shirts, outer garments, a vest, a coat, and heavy pants,” Penunuri said. “I’m not sure if she was working outside or just went to connect her battery charger. I’ve done this — I’ve gone out in jeans and tennis shoes to do something really quick. If she had done that, I don’t think she would have survived. The hypothermia would have killed her.”
According to Dr. Mark Morocco, Professor of emergency medicine at the Reagan Medical Center at UCLA, carrying a cell phone at all times is “more important than being in long underwear,” but he does offer some tips in avoiding hypothermia.
“In her case, the better dressed you are is great, and if you can stay dry, which this woman couldn’t do, is best,” Morocco said. “Hypothermia happens when you’re wet- the water sucks the heat out of you. If you can stay dry, you can survive quite a while if you’re well hydrated and healthy. Stomping your feet or running in place will keep you just as warm as standing still, but it will make you lose energy.”
Morocco said this particular woman was lucky to survive, but points out that more people in Winter are found dead inside their homes than those who are found in the outdoors.
“If you think of environmental illnesses winter as the wolf, it looks for people who are cut off and alone from the herd, so now is a good time to look around the herd for people who live near you and don’t have people to take care of them, and check in on them.”
The woman was taken to Legacy Emanuel Medical Center, Penunuri said.