Death Highlights Danger of Hot Temperatures

by Anayeli Ruiz 
NewsWest 9

MIDLAND - The West Texas heat has claimed its first victim. Authorities think an elderly woman in Big Spring died from heat exhaustion. As you can imagine, more and more people are coming to the emergency room with heat related illnesses. Newswest9 spoke with a local doctor to see what they're seeing in the Basin.

The woman was found dead in her home last week. She didn't have a way to keep cool because she had no air conditioning. With triple digit temperatures, doctors are warning more people than ever that they could be in danger.

"We've seen more heat related illness this year than I ever recall seeing in the last few years," Doctor Lowrence Wilson, Medical Director of the Emergency Department, said.

Wilson works at the ER at Midland Memorial Hospital. He says this extreme heat can be dangerous  for children and the elderly.

"As we get older, you just are more prone to heat illness," Wilson said.

Our body can usually keep itself pretty healthy when the temperature is about 95 to 104. But if you go beyond that for a long period of time, it can be to much for your body to handle.

"The body organs begin to fail and that can be devastating. Once your body loses ability to offload the heat, the temperature can start rising rapidly. Liver damage can occur, muscle damage, kidney function other body functions can deteriorate and ultimately the brain begins to misfire and not work very well. It can be from a bad injury, to very sick, all the way to dying," Wilson said.

Local organizations like Meals on Wheels are trying to help check up on the elderly daily to make sure they are staying cool during these summer months.

"They look for signs in the client if they're sweating and seem kind of lethargic or even if their house feels hot. You can feel when someone opens the door whether it's cool or heat is coming out," Shanda Garner, with Meals on Wheels, said.

Not only does Meals on Wheels make sure the elderly are ok, they also provide them with materials to stay cool.

"We have a fan drive that happens in June and those fans and air conditioners that are donated go to the clients that are in need," Garner said.

The fans and air conditioner's are vital to helping saving senior's lives. Elderly folks know how hard it is beating the heat.

Bottom line, staying cool during the summer can prevent a tragedy from happening.

"If you don't have good air conditioning in your home or are relying on a fan, keep yourself moist and sponge off. Go in front of a fan, the evaporative heat loss can be much more substantial than just the fan by itself. If you have an opportunity to take a ride to a library or to a public area that has air conditioning, go spend a couple hours a day in an air conditioning environment to allow your body to adjust back down and that can prolong the time that you can sustain higher heat exposure," Wilson said.

Wearing loose fitted clothing, staying out of the sun and indoors can all be ways to help prevent a heat related death. Also if you have an elderly neighbor and you know they don't have family or friends, stop by and check on them to make sure they are ok and staying cool.