Important to check on elderly during oppressive heat

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - By Steve Phillips – bio | email

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - They turned down offers to have a new air conditioner installed, then died in their trailer from heat stroke.

Two Gulfport sisters were found dead Wednesday in their home on Smith Road just off Canal. Elizabeth Thomas, 65, was the caregiver for her disabled younger sister, 57-year-old Jennifer.

Heat stroke deaths can often be prevented, provided people get involved.

"When I went in, the temperature in there was 90 plus," said Coroner Gary Hargrove, recalling the case of the sisters who died from heat stroke.

The Thomas sisters were found inside the living room of their trailer, the bodies discovered by their landlord.

Two new air conditioners were also discovered inside.  For whatever reason, the sisters refused offers to have them installed.

"The one younger sister suffered from Downs Syndrome and the older one was taking care of her. Now the question is, who died first? I don't know and we'll never know who died first," said the coroner.

"The little red dots would represent families of senior citizens," said Janice Green, pointing to a series of push pins on a county map.

With daily heat advisories, Harrison County Senior Resources is contacting the elderly.

"We've gone into our data base and are calling seniors all over the county, especially those that are homebound. We have a homebound program and those people in the homes are a lot more susceptible because they don't get contact all the time, maybe once a week," said Green, who directs the county's senior resources agency.

The simple act of getting involved could well prevent a senseless heat stroke death.  If you have elderly family or friends, be sure to check on them, especially in times of oppressive heat.

And that caring and involvement should extend beyond family and friends. Check out your neighborhood.

There's a good chance there's an elderly neighbor who would appreciate an "are you okay?" visit.

Air conditioned senior centers offer free heat relief. Friday afternoon, a group of seniors filled the Charles Walker senior citizens center in Gulfport. They were certainly enjoying the building's air conditioning.

"They are so appreciative of that. And they even let us know. We have not had that many stay from morning until late afternoon. But from time to time, we'll find some that do that. Just trying to get out of this heat," said director Robert Locke.

That cool air that feels so good, could actually be a life saver.

Harrison County senior services has a phone number for elderly residents who might need help or want someone to check on them. That number is (228) 380-2869.

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