Oelwein resident Anthony Ricchio has a message for everyone as extremely cold temperatures continue this week — check on your neighbors. For Ricchio the message is especially poignant, as his 32-year-old brother TJ Ricchio, who lives alone, was found unresponsive on his front porch shortly after noon Wednesday. The midday temperature was 22 degrees below zero with wind chill at between 30 and 35 below.
Authorities and an ambulance were dispatched to TJ’s home on Eighth Avenue SW at 12:35 p.m. Wednesday, after a passing motorist saw him lying on his porch. Ricchio said his brother is suffering from stage 3 hypothermia and is in intensive care at University Hospitals in Iowa City, where doctors are keeping him in a medically induced coma.
“We still have a lot of questions and are trying to piece together what happened to TJ. A friend saw him standing on his porch at about 8:30 a.m. yesterday, but TJ’s back was to the street. He might have been having a cigarette. We don’t know how long he was lying out there before he was found. We’re puzzled because his house was locked, so we think he might have been going somewhere,” Anthony Ricchio said.
The family thinks TJ may have fallen and struck his head, knocking himself out, because he has some broken ribs to compound his condition.
TJ’s low body temperature for an extended period of time also brought on a condition called sepsis, when the body releases chemicals into the blood stream to fight infection and it causes inflammation throughout the body.
“My brother is probably the toughest Italian I know. He is a fighter,” Ricchio said. He added that TJ has responded to family voices with nods and head movement, which is encouraging. “Right now, he is critical, but stable,” he said.
In another related area incident, a rural Hazleton woman of more than 80 years old, went onto her porch Wednesday morning, closing her door behind her. When she turned to go back inside, she found the keypad security lock was frozen and she was unable to open the door. According to her son-in-law, the woman walked to his home, approximately a quarter-mile away, without a coat, hat or gloves, with the temperature at 27 below zero and wind chill of about 40 below.
“She made it to our house and we took her into the ER. She is back home this afternoon and is getting the feeling back in her hands and feet,” the son-in-law reported later Wednesday on Facebook.
The woman, who did not want to be identified, told her family she literally thought she was going to die. Her son-in-law said the fact that his mother-in-law was always a hard-working farm woman probably played a big factor in her survival.
These two life-threatening experiences could have turned into tragedy with the extremely bitter cold temperatures brought on by the polar vortex. They are reminders of how quickly a situation can become perilous and how important extra precautions are.
Grab your coat even if you are only going to check a bird feeder or thermometer and keep gloves or mittens in the coat pocket. Keep your cell phone with you at all times. Try to keep steps and porches clear of ice and snow to lessen the chance of slipping or falling. If you know a neighbor lives alone or have an older relative, check on them regularly especially during these frigid cold spells.
The current cold spell is moving out of the area, but cold temperatures will return later next week, and this Iowa winter is a long way from being over.