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'I wanted to die': Frostbitten man stranded for two nights, rescued by grader operator
EDMONTON -- Warning: This story contains graphic images.
The odour emitting from his feet is not a pleasant one. And even though it follows him everywhere, Derek Lamoriss can smell it, too.
But soon, the smell and at least parts of both his feet, will be gone.
"I’d prefer just the toes, yeah," chuckled Lamoriss, 65, from his wheelchair in an atrium at Edmonton’s Royal Alexandra Hospital. "I can still wiggle them."
All 10 of his toes and parts of both feet are black, ravaged by severe frostbite nearly one month ago. Lamoriss said he was stranded in his minivan for nearly two days. It was a stretch that coincided with an extreme cold that gripped Alberta for more than a week.
"Life can change pretty fast," said Lamoriss.
STUCK, COLD AND ALONE
On Jan. 11, Lamoriss set out in his Dodge Grand Caravan with the goal of delivering some items to a friend’s daughter near Fort Assiniboine, Alta.
Evening was nearing, the wind chill was hovering around -38, and Lamoriss’ van was having trouble navigating the snowy hills on a rural road near Athabasca River. Eventually, it got stuck.
“I had brand new tires on my vehicle but they were summer tires,” said Lamoriss, as a tear rolled down his cheek.
Unfortunately for him, he wasn’t completely dressed for the conditions. On his upper body, he had two hoodies and a coat. On his lower half, sweatpants to cover his legs. But on his feet were only slippers and boot liners that were wet from previously walking in snow.
“Normally, I always got the right footwear,” said Lamoriss. “But I’ve been sort of living out of my van with this guy and I’ve sort of got my stuff spread all over the place. I just didn’t have the right footwear.”
Lamoriss had a working cell phone but was stuck in a dead zone. His plan early on was to wait for a passing vehicle, but he said one never came. He also had no food or water.
“(The van) finally just ran out of gas,” said Lamoriss. “I had fallen asleep during the night and that’s probably why I started freezing so bad.”
He said he thought he heard one car pass in the night.
“(I) laid on the horn. I don’t think he heard anything at all because his mufflers were pretty loud, too. And he just zipped on by.”
That was Saturday night. Lamoriss said he didn’t see anyone for the rest of the weekend. The pain in his hands and especially his feet became excruciating, he said.
“I wanted to die.”
A CURIOUS GRADER OPERATOR
On the afternoon of Monday, Jan. 13, Ty Schmidt was driving a grader in the Fort Assiniboine area. He came upon a Dodge Grand Caravan in the middle of the road.
“The windows were frosted over. You could tell it’d been there for a while,” said Schmidt, who initially thought the vehicle was abandoned.
Schmidt plowed the snow around the minivan and was about to move on.
“I thought, frick, maybe I should stop just in case.”
That’s when Schmidt noticed a man slump out of the passenger side door and onto the road.
“He wasn’t really all there, I guess. And I had to shake him a little get him going. And that’s when he told me he’d been out there for two days and that he can’t feel his feet or his hands,” said Schmidt.
Schmidt helped the man walk to the grader and boosted him into the heated cab. He said he then ran roughly two kilometres until he was able to obtain cellular service and call for help. Schmidt said he then ran back to the cab and waited until an ambulance arrived.
It wasn’t until speaking with CTV News that Ty Schmidt learned the man’s name was Derek Lamoriss and that he was still alive.
“If i would’ve came by, I don’t even know if it would’ve been that next night or the next day if (Lamoriss) would still be with us.”
Lamorris was taken to the Barrhead Healthcare Centre and eventually transferred to the Royal Alex.
At the time of the interview, Lamoriss was scheduled to undergo an amputation, but said doctors hadn’t yet determined which parts of his feet they’d be removing.
“As long as I can still go fishing, I’ll be okay,” said Lamoriss.
He said he’s grateful to be alive and that Schmidt bothered to check if anyone was in the frosty minivan.
“He’s one hell of a nice guy. He was kinda worried about me stealing his grader at first,” Lamoriss remarked with a laugh.
“He was heaven sent that’s for sure.”
A friend of Lamoriss’ has started a GoFundMe page for him.