“Hi. You don’t know me, but I have your brother,” the shaky voice of Aughtry said over a call to his family
Editor's note: This article was originally published on December 29, 2022. It has since been updated.
A Buffalo woman was heralded for being a "true angel" and saving the life of 64-year-old resident Joe White, who was found at her door, begging for assistance, during what some officials are calling the worst snowfall to strike Buffalo since 1977. The story of Sha'Kyra Aughtry saving Joe, a mentally disabled man, from the snowstorm, which first surfaced on the SweetBuffalo716 blog's Facebook page, has captivated people all around Upstate New York and the world. Aughtry overheard Joe in distress and pleading for assistance. They found Joe and carried him out of the snow bank and into their home early on Saturday, Christmas Eve, with the aid of her boyfriend.
“During the blizzard, he must have gotten disoriented and he ended up North of where he lives. He didn’t have his gloves with him and with the windchills being what they were, his skin was burning and he was in real rough shape and he was crying,” said Ray Barker, program director at North Park Theatre, where Joe works as a janitor, according to The Washington Post.
Joe has worked as the custodian at the Hertel Avenue landmark in Western New York for almost 40 years. His sister, Yvonne White believes he went there on Thursday, was afraid, remained overnight, and then decided to return home. Aughtry, a mother of three, had to carefully remove Joe's frozen garments from his body, cutting his socks off and ripping the straps of a Wegman's bag from his seriously frostbitten hands. She removed his clothes, which were adhered to his flesh, using a hairdryer. Aughtry washed him up, fed him, and wrapped him in warm blankets after removing his icy clothes.
She put all other holiday plans on hold and did everything she could to make him feel at ease. Aughtry phoned his sister, Joe's only surviving family. “Hi, you don’t know me but I have your brother,” Aughtry reportedly said to Joe’s sister. Aughtry FaceTimed Joe at her house to distract himself from the discomfort he was still feeling from the frostbite. Meanwhile, she was aware that his hands need the attention of medical specialists. It was then up to them to figure out how to get Joe assistance in the midst of a terrible blizzard that had buried most roads and snowed in inhabitants. Many emergency services were unavailable, according to Barker. Two days passed before Aughtry was able to arrange transportation for Joe to the Erie County Medical Center.
“At one point all of Buffalo’s firetrucks were stuck in the snow. She wanted to get him medical attention and there was no one to come get him,” Barker said. Aughtry posted a frantic call on Facebook, and wonderful Samaritans arrived, plowed, and lifted Joe to their truck, where he was transported to ECMC. She was said to have ridden with Joe to the hospital. Joe is still in the burn unit at the ECMC, recuperating from fourth-degree frostbite. Barker called Joe in the hospital on December 26. “He was in good spirits and his voice was strong,” Barker said.
“I think he’s very fortunate he bumped into someone who was a compassionate soul, and I think it goes to show that there are kind people of goodwill everywhere in every neighborhood and in every walk of life,” Barker said. “She went above and beyond what a lot of people would do. It could have been a very tragic situation. She saved his life.” Joe, the longest-serving North Park employee, was employed in 1980, according to Barker. He has known White for almost 30 years while working there. Joe's life, he says, centers on the movie theatre, which provides him with a regular routine. The North Park Theatre has set up two GoFundMe pages to aid Joe and to thank Sha'Kyra Aughtry for her generosity. Joe's Support Fund will not only assist with medical expenditures but any cash left over will be used to improve his day-to-day care at home.
If you’d like to send a card to Joe while he is in the hospital, SweetBuffalo716 posted more to their Instagram page for more details.