An alarm might have saved his life

Extreme winter conditions frequently lead to untimely deaths, preventable if only a few precautions had been taken, says Claudette Sandecki

Extreme winter conditions frequently lead to untimely deaths,  preventable if only a few precautions had been taken.

The latest needless casualty reported in Canada occurred in Toronto Saturday night, February 14 during a cold snap.

Twenty-nine-year-old  Mark Stroz, confined by a disability to a wheelchair,  left a gathering of friends about midnight to return home by taxi. Moving along his driveway toward his front door he tipped over, spilling out on the frozen ground in -25 C temperature (-40 C with windchill).

To compound his problem,  starting at  4:30 Sunday morning 4,000 households in suburban Etobicoke, where he lived with his mother, were struck by a power blackout. No one saw him until sunrise Sunday morning when a neighbour found him lying face down in his front yard, unconscious, not breathing.

An ambulance arrived just after 7 a.m. By then he had no pulse, wasn’t breathing. In the emergency, he registered  a very low core temperature. Doctors were unable to revive him.

No doubt the taxi driver had been busy on such an  extremely cold night, rushing to pick up a waiting fare. Instead of accompanying Stroz safely to his front door, making sure he got in out of the cold, he apparently left Stroz to fend for himself once he exited the taxi.

Stroz was a vital young man whose disability  didn’t stop him, say neighbours. He walked his dog along snowy streets. He was involved in his community, working to improve accessibility for the disabled. A well-known member of the Ontario sledge hockey fraternity, he had at one time been captain of the Markham Islanders sledge hockey team and in 2008 played in the Ontario Paralympic Winter Championships.

Sadly, Stroz is not the first Canadian to die in these circumstances. A similar situation took the life of a wheelchair-bound disabled person a winter or two ago. That person, too, exited a taxi on a particularly cold evening,  got stuck in snow ruts between the taxi and the curb, and tipped over. The individual was found next morning by a neighbour, lying dead on the ground.

“At times of extreme cold, small emergencies that would otherwise be survivable can quickly turn into life or death crises,” says a spokesman for Toronto Paramedic Services.

This young man’s death could so easily have been prevented.

One friend at the gathering could have ridden  along with him in the taxi to see him safely home. Or driven him home.

They could at least have phoned later to be sure he was home, safe.

But the first line of defence for disabled in wheelchairs especially in cold winter weather is for cabbies to always see their fares safely to their front porch, wait while they unlock the door, and switch on the lights. It also doesn’t hurt to make sure the heat is working. If not, the fare can be offered a ride to a neighbour or somewhere they will be warm until the power returns. They should never be abandoned at the curb.

With all the sensor systems built into today’s cars, it’s time wheelchair manufacturers install devices to alert the entire neighbourhood if a wheelchair upsets. That way if someone like Stroz, coming home late in the dark, got into difficulty approaching the house,  those of us hunkered down watching a TV, or sleeping, would promptly be alerted something was amiss, someone might be in need of help.

Until wheelchairs are built or retrofitted with safety warning sensors, disabled or elderly people would do well to skip attending an event. Surely that would be preferable to risking death by hypothermia.