Mary Steinke of Des Moines had been lying at the bottom of her basement stairs for 72 hours when the thought suddenly occurred to her: "I'm probably going to die here."
Mary, 82, had started down the long flight of stairs on a Friday afternoon in early January to do laundry when she lost consciousness and fell to the bottom, sustaining a head injury. When she woke, she was disoriented and wasn't sure where she was; she tried crawling to get help, but wasn't able to summon the strength.
"So I just laid there and once in a while I'd try to move, and I kept yelling and hoping that someone would hear," she says. "I imagine I slept a little, on and off. But every so often, I'd yell and yell. I was hoping that somehow, one of the neighbors might hear me."
Mary's strength was nearly depleted by the following Monday afternoon when her WesleyLife Meals on Wheels driver, Steffan Hampton, arrived at her home on a quiet street on Des Moines' west side.
The first thing Steffan noticed was that Mary's garbage hadn't been taken out since the previous week, and he didn't immediately hear her response when he called her name. So, concerned, he began looking through the house for his client -- and finally heard a weak cry for help.
Steffan, a relatively new WesleyLife team member, recalls that he was terrified when he saw Mary crumpled on the basement floor. But rather than attempt to move her, the quick-thinking and well-prepared driver called 911, then contacted Mary's daughter, Denyse. Then he comforted Mary as he waited with her for paramedics to arrive.
"When I got to my mom's house, I felt a tremendous sense of relief when one of the paramedics told me that she was going to be OK," Denyse Steinke says. "My next feeling was immense gratitude toward Steffan. The doctors said Mom would not have lasted much longer, so Steffan really did save her life."
Bambi Press, Community Nutrition Manager for WesleyLife, says she is proud of Steffan for having followed his hunch.
"When he saw that Friday's meal hadn't been touched, he had a feeling that something was wrong, and he went with that feeling," Bambi says.
"The safety checks our drivers perform every day are every bit as important as the meals we provide. For many of our clients, their driver is the only person they see in the course of a day, or a week. We remind our drivers that when they deliver a meal, they need to either put eyes on the person, or they need verbal confirmation from the client that he or she is OK."
Mary says even before he saved her life, Steffan was special to her. "Seeing him is the high point of my day," she says. "He is always so cheerful and kind, and he likes to pet my dog. I feel bad that I scared him -- but I am so grateful he looked for me that day. Right before he got there, I had started to panic, thinking, 'I'm afraid I'm really going to die here.' Thanks to him, I'm going to be just fine."
Denyse says when her mother was found, she not only was chilled from having been in the basement for so long, but was nutritionally depleted and had worn her fingernails to the quick by crawling on the cement floor and trying to pull herself up to stand. Mary spent two weeks in the hospital and is continuing her recovery in a rehabilitation center near her home.
"It terrifies me to know we were so close to losing her," Denyse says. "If Steffan had decided he was in too big a hurry to check on her, it would have been too late when I went to check on her after I got off work. I don't know how we can even convey how grateful we are to Steffan and to WesleyLife.
"We loved Meals on Wheels all along -- but we never dreamed it would save our mom's life."
WesleyLife Meals on Wheels will deliver a hot, healthy meal each day, Monday through Friday (with weekend meals available) to any adult 60 or older, and to military veterans of all ages. To learn more, receive three complimentary meals through our First Steps program following a hospitalization or rehabilitation stay, or begin service, call Pam at (515) 699-3243.