Husband saves wife from freezing to death in dramatic rescue

KIRBY, Vt. (AP) — He heard her voice.

Jerry Toomey was alone inside the 1800s farmhouse he shares with his wife, Flower, on a freezing cold night in mid-December.

In his head he heard her voice from the night before. She had been telling him how worried she was for their chickens in the single-digit cold.

Jerry was recovering from a total knee replacement a few weeks earlier and had not yet ventured outdoors since the surgery.

But Flower’s voice got him moving. He grabbed his crutches and headed out to make sure the chicken coop was closed and warm.

When he went out, he noticed the garage door was open. He went to close it and noticed something in the road. The couple lives in an isolated part of Kirby Mountain Road near the Victory Town Line.

At first he thought it was a tarp. But he hobbled out to investigate. That’s when, to his horror, he discovered his wife. He thought she was dead.

Flower, a holistic health practitioner, remembers coming home from a workshop she gave in Barnet on herbal tinctures.

She remembers getting home at around 4:15 p.m. and parking her car. She remembers falling . . . the first time. There was a light snow blanketing the ice and her supplies went flying. She laughed at herself as she collected the things in a basket.

Flower hit her head in the second fall. She remembers calling to her husband – probably in a softer voice than she imagines.

He didn’t hear her.

The couple live in a remote area and always try to remember to text one another on their way home. But Flower said she hadn’t texted Jerry that afternoon – she was thinking about supper, or something else, and it slipped her mind.

She was knocked out by the fall.

It would be more than two hours before Jerry found Flower laying in the middle of the road.

He acted quickly but struggled to get her into his vehicle. The first thing he did was blast the heat. She was so frozen he could not bend her. He got her quickly into the back seat of the car and called 911, telling the state trooper he thought his wife was dead, and he would race down the mountain toward Route 2 to meet the ambulance.

The trooper told him to try to regain his composure – and told him his wife’s life depended on it.

“He totally saved my life,” said Flower, 48, her hands still swaddled in white cotton gauze, more than five weeks after the terrible incident.

Jerry said as he made that harrowing drive to meet the rescue crew, knowing he could not lose precious minutes waiting for them to reach Flower. He rubbed her stomach and torso to try to bring warmth to her heart and organs. She had severe hypothermia and frostbite.

When Jerry found Flower, he said she had frozen blood coming out of her nostrils. “She was frozen solid. Her arms were like this,” he said, showing how she was face down, her arms folded under her. “Oh my God,” he remembers screaming.

As he was racing down the mountain, he kept saying, “God don’t let her die.” He covered her body with a blanket and with his coat. When Jerry and Flower met with the rescue workers near the Mooselook Restaurant in Concord on Route 2, Flower coughed just a tiny bit, and Jerry knew for the first time that she was alive, he said.

Jerry said the state police and ambulance crew from CALEX and the emergency room at NVRH all did yeoman’s work helping to save his wife, and they are very grateful.

Of the ER team at NVRH, Jerry said, “They worked like a machine.”

When Flower’s temperature was taken by the rescue crews that night, it was 80 degrees. Jerry was told she would have died had she spent 15 more minutes in the freezing cold.

Flower was soon moved to Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center, where she was cared for for four days, before being moved to the Mt. Ascutney Hospital and Health Center in Windsor, where she spent more than three weeks doing intensive rehab. She has been home not quite two weeks, the couple said.

Flower’s severe frostbite to her hands and lower arms caused nerve damage, and while there is hope that she will heal and gain strength, there is no guarantee she’ll regain full use of her hands and arms, she said. Her hands still feel like they are on fire all the time, said Flower. She is using meditation to try to deal with the pain, but has also had to give in and take pain medication during this trying time, she said.

She is hopeful that her own knowledge of herbal medicine, healthy diet, Reiki and more will allow her to channel healing to herself, in addition to the help she’s receiving from colleagues in the holistic medicine world and from traditional medical practitioners who she continues to see during her recovery.

She said doctors have told her it will be 6-8 months before they know how much of her nerves will heal. Her upper thigh on one side suffered such severe muscle damage that she has to use a walker still, after being restricted to a wheelchair for several weeks.

Telling the story, Jerry, who just turned 60, can’t help but cry, and anyone listening to the couple’s harrowing story also would find it impossible to fight back tears.

The couple has been married for four years. He moved here two years ago from Ohio after retiring as a federal law enforcement officer, a job he held for 25 years. Jerry met Flower during his search for a holistic practitioner to help with health issues.

The message Jerry got “deep down,” that night when he decided to go check on the chickens was this, “God said ‘Flower it is not your time to go for you have many great things to do . . . I am sending help . . . my chickens are cold . . . I’m cold . . . ‘ ”

Both Jerry and Flower believe it was divine intervention which spoke to Jerry that night – and which helped him to save her life.

Flower is hoping people will be very careful, check on neighbors and friends who may be alone, and dress as warmly as possible given the arctic climate here. She has lived at her farmhouse for many years, and never had a problem until this year, she said.

The road has been hard but the couple has gotten lots of help.

Folks are plowing, bringing them wood, and vegetarian food. The lady at the laundromat did their laundry. And friends are delivering Flower’s homemade soaps to local shops, including the Lyndon Freighthouse and the Northeast Kingdom Country Store in E. Burke. Buying her herbal products (Mother Nature’s Mountain) is a big help, as the accident has been a financial setback. (The website for her business – which is being updated but will soon be back online, is mothernaturesmountain.com).

There have been many visitors, meals, good wishes, and love, demonstrated by their friends and neighbors, and the couple has been overwhelmed by the outpouring of goodness, they both shared on Friday.

“People have been so kind,” said Flower. She said it breaks her heart to have learned of the baby girl who froze to death recently in southern New Hampshire, a story Jerry tried to keep from her.

Flower already had a deep appreciation for her life, but having survived this, she said, “I am not taking one day for granted.”

“I’m going in the right direction,” she said of her recovery ahead. “I believe that I’m going to heal . . . and that I’ll be even better. It brings tears to my eyes to have all these people I have helped now helping me.”

(Copyright (c) 2019 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)