Sha’Kyra Aughtry said she heard cries for help coming from outside her home at around 6.30am on Christmas Eve and saw Joe White, 64, caught in a snowbank and being buffeted by strong winds and heavy snowfall.
Ms Aughtry said in a Facebook Live that her boyfriend Trent picked up Mr White and brought him inside.
Ms Aughtry then had to cut off Mr White’s socks as they had become frozen to his legs, and used a hairdryer to thaw his frozen pants.
The couple fed him and tried to treat his hands for frostbite, which had begun to turn gangrenous, and piled blankets on him to try to keep him warm.
Ms Aughtry contacted Mr White’s sister, his only living relative, and staff at the North Park Theater cinema house where he has worked as the custodian since 1980.
With Buffalo’s streets paralysed under 50 inches (1.25m) of snow and emergency vehicles unable to reach the house for more than 24 hours, Ms Aughtry took to Facebook on Christmas Day to plead for help in getting Mr White to the hospital.
A group of local residents saw the viral post and turned up to Ms Aughtry’s home to plow the snow on her street. She then rode with them as they took Mr White to a local hospital in a truck.
North Park Theater programme director Ray Barker told The Independent in an interview on Tuesday that the entire staff at the cinema house were overwhelmed with gratitude towards Ms Aughtry.
“This woman did what I think a lot of people wouldn’t do which is to respond to another human being in dire need and help him and take care of him. I think she knew he was in real trouble and she saved him,” Mr Barker said.
Mr White is being treated in the burns unit at the Erie County Medical Center for fourth-degree frostbite and faces a lengthy recovery, he said.
“I spoke to Joe yesterday, he’s in good spirits, his voice is strong, and the nurse told me that frostbite is something that they have to look at over time, to see how the treatment proceeds,” Mr Barker told The Independent. “In a worst case scenario he would be looking at amputation of fingers, but we won’t know for some time.”
TRUE ANGEL IN BUFFALO 💯 A THREAD: A local woman received a call on Christmas Eve, “Hi, you don't know me but I have your brother.” The woman’s brother’s name is Joey. He is 64 years old and mentally disabled. pic.twitter.com/iAVQTsf2xH— Kimberly LaRussa (@KimberlyLaRussa) December 26, 2022
Mr Barker said he had last spoken to Mr White on the evening of 23 December, and warned him to stay inside as Winter Storm Elliott was bearing down on the city.
As a self-functioning but mentally impaired man, Mr White stuck closely to his patterns and may have been trying to reach the cinema where he has worked for more than 40 years, Mr Barker said.
He said the act of kindness had attracted national and international attention.
“Buffalo’s nickname is ‘the city of good neighbours’,” he said. “The neighbourhood is a poor neighbourhhod, it has high crime rates, but it just goes to show there are good hearts everywhere.”
Mr Barker said the theatre planned to put on a special screening for Ms Aughtry at a later date: “She did something so compassionate and kindly and gracious and we want to do something to recognise her.”
Mr Barker said Mr White’s story of survival was a rare moment of joy in a painful few days for Buffalo, which has lost 28 residents during the longest blizzard in the city’s history.
“Buffalo is the snow capitol of America, so we’re used to getting a lot of snow, that’s no big deal for us. But this is different. This is an incredible storm, the high winds, the cold temperatures,” Mr Barker said. “We can’t leave home because the streets haven’t been plowed. You feel a sense of helplessness because you can’t get to where you need to go.”
The North Park Theater had remained open in spite of a city-wide travel ban, providing a respite for central city residents who live within walking distance of the 102-year-old arthouse cinema.
Mr Barker said he was looking forward to having Mr White back on deck at the cinema: “Whatever happens to Joe, his personality doesn’t change towards the world. I’m sure he’s going to be back soon and asking me about the Buffalo Bills run to the Super Bowl and Bruce Lee films.”
Kimberly LaRussa, founder of the Sweet Buffalo webpage, called Ms Aughtry “a true angel in Buffalo” in a viral Twitter thread.
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