In 2022, tragedy struck New York at what would usually be the happiest time of the year. Over the Christmas weekend, a blizzard hit New York and turned into one of the deadliest snowstorms in its history.
The extreme weather hit Buffalo, New York particularly hard. Trees hit power lines and power stations froze over, rendering plenty of homes without electricity.
A lot of people were stranded and sadly, some died due to subfreezing temperatures. Fortunately, under such a dire and life-threatening situation, a number of people rose to the occasion and extended a helping hand to those in need.
On Christmas Eve, Yvonne White received a phone call from an unknown number. The caller said, “Hi. You don’t know me, but I have your brother.” During that catastrophic winter storm, White’s brother Joe, 64, had ventured outdoors despite repeated warnings to stay at home.
Joey has a mental disability and lives in a group home. For unknown reasons, Joe left the house and walked nine miles to the North Park Theatre, which has been his workplace as a janitor since 1980. He stayed there overnight, then decided to walk home. On December 24, he happened to find himself in a snowbank outside Sha’Kyra Aughtry’s house.
Aughtry heard Joe wailing and sobbing in pain. She and her boyfriend ventured outside and immediately took Joe inside to take refuge from the blizzard. It was painfully obvious that he had significant frostbite. His clothes were stuck to his trembling body, which Aughtry removed with a hairdryer.
She also took off his frozen socks and unglued Joe’s hand from the remnants of a supermarket bag. The couple also had to use giant shearing clippers to cut a ring off Joe’s finger, which was severely swollen and turning black from gangrene.
Aughtry tried to warm Joe up for an hour before she called White. Joe had memorized his sister’s number and Aughtry called her to say that she was taking care of Joe. She also sent pictures to White, showing how Joe’s skin was terribly swollen and covered with blisters and sores.
Still, there was no way for brother and sister to get together because of the storm and despite the initial care given by Aughtry, Joe still needed immediate medical attention. Aughtry called 911 so many times, but it was impossible for any emergency medical professional to come to her house.
A day after she found Joe, Aughtry made a desperate call for help on Facebook. She said, “I’ve been very private and sensitive about this situation. I have literally called everybody under the sun. I’m asking for help from whoever. This man needs serious help.”
She added, “I’m going crazy because I’m scared. I’m starting to see his body change too much from the time that I had him – his body has changed rapidly every hour. I’ve called the National Guard. I’ve called 911. I’ve called everybody – they just keep telling me I’m on a list. I don’t want to be on a list. I don’t care about nothing else. This man is not about to die over here.”
White also made an appeal to get medical help for Joe on a local Facebook page. Within a half-hour of uploading the videos, neighbors began offering to assist. Several even turned up to plow the area around Aughtry’s house.
They then carefully carried out Joe, who was covered in a warm blanket, amd brought him to the Erie County Medical Center. Aughtry made sure to accompany Joe to the hospital.
At the trauma unit of the hospital, Ray Barker, Joe’s boss and program director of North Park Theatre, said, “the physician who is seeing him won’t know how he’ll come through this until time goes by. We are very much hoping that they will not have to amputate any of his fingers.”
Barker called Joe a gentle soul and shared that he had a strong commitment to hard work and a love of sports. He was particularly appreciative of Aughtry’s kindness, saying, “Her act was an act of goodness, it was an act of charity, it was an act of empathy, it was an act of care. Joe won’t be able to express his gratitude fully, but he will feel it emotionally.”
Doctors say that Joe suffered from numerous fourth degree burns on his arms and hands and likely would have died if it were not for Aughtry. Soon after, Chris Dearing, a friend of Joe’s, started GoFundMe accounts for both Joe and Aughtry. He urged people to donate to the woman who saved his friend with her ‘generous spirit and fierce determination.’
He has since raised more than $178,000 for Aughtry and $99,000 for Joe. Dearing added, “Aughtry did all of this without any thought of reward, but she deserves one, and so does her family. She’s a hard-working young mother, and I want to show her at least a fraction of the support she gave my friend Joe.”
White shared that her brother Joe remains in the intensive care unit and that his condition has not yet improved. She said, “It’s just touching and go. It’s stable. I mean, his hands are completely wrapped, his fingertips are still purple. But today he was in a pretty good mood.”
White explained that Joe is developmentally disabled and has the mental capacity of an 11-year-old child. He has no concept of time, which makes it difficult to determine how long he was out in the blizzard. He resides in a group home, which is actually located just a few blocks from Aughtry.
On his friend’s GoFundMe page, Dearing shared that Joe was in good spirits, but that it was still too early to know what will happen with his hands. He said, “All funds generated here will be spent on Joe’s most pressing medical needs.
If by some miracle he leaves the hospital without lasting complications, the funds will go toward improving his day-to-day care at home, ensuring nothing like this happens again. We couldn’t be there for him that night in the snow, but we can be there for him now.”
White likewise expressed her appreciation to Joe’s savior, saying, “What Sha’Kyra did… Feeding him, bathing him, and helping him go to the bathroom on Christmas Eve and Christmas. It’s just astronomical.”
She added that if there was a silver lining in this situation, it was the fact that she had gained a sister in Aughtry. “We gained a sister with Sha’Kyra. We gained another brother with [her partner]. And now we have three small nephews,” she said. “Sha’Kyra and I will be sisters no matter what.”
See the emotional video of Joe’s experience here: