Postal Updates

Two USPS letter carriers rescue 85-year-old woman from the jaws of hypothermia

Jul 1, 2024, 7 AM

Delivering the Mail by Allen Abel

Rebecca “Becky” Mitchell, an 85-year-old ball of fire from the minuscule Virginia hamlet of Saint Stephens Church, was puttering around her front yard at 2 p.m. on a fine spring afternoon a few weeks ago, sweeping up mulch and trimming bushes, when she fell off her little orange tractor and broke her leg in three places.

Unable to move — let alone walk two or three yards to the front door of the well-ordered rural cottage where she lives alone — Mitchell lay where she had tumbled, attended only by a rather overfed poodle-shih tzu mix named Coco.

Bloodied, half-hidden in the underbrush, unable to move any part of her body except her neck and arms, Mitchell tried to wave and holler for help. But even though Saint Stephens Church is so metropolitan that it boasts the only traffic light in all of King and Queen County, not a single living soul was close enough to hear her.

Every once in a while, a vehicle would pass along Todd’s Bridge Road, and Coco would wobble down the driveway, howling. But nobody stopped.

In an interview with Linn’s Stamp News, Mitchell said that she prayed, “Dear God, please save my life, but if it is my time to go, then I am ready to meet you.”

As night fell, Coco clambered on top of the fallen woman to try to keep her warm. The low temperature in King and Queen County that night reached 38 degrees Fahrenheit.

Snug inside the house, Mandy, Mitchell’s 13-year-old Manx cat, did nothing.

Twelve hours after the fall of darkness came the dawn. Mitchell, one of two surviving children of a Blue Ridge lumberman’s 14 offspring (“They said I was the smallest but the loudest,” Mitchell said.), was still lying in her yard, sleepless, shivering and voiceless from crying.

Then the two women from the Newtown, Va., post office who deliver Mitchell’s mail just past dawn each day came driving down Todd’s Bridge Road. Once again, the devoted Coco waddled and yelped and pleaded down the pebbly lane.

“That dog isn’t usually so far from the house,” Shakeara Stewart, one of the United States Postal Service contract letter carriers, said to her wife and co-pilot, Taishonna Stewart.

They looked toward the cottage and saw Mitchell lying on the ground, still gamely waving after more than 16 hours without food or drink.

Immediately, the Stewarts called 911 and rushed inside to find a blanket to wrap around the half-frozen woman on the lawn.

The local rescue squad was there in minutes. One of the firefighters attempted to wrap fat little Coco in a blanket. Terri Leach, who clerks at both the Newtown and Saint Stephens Church post offices, told a Linn’s correspondent about her article for the Country Courier newspaper detailing the rescue of Mitchell from the jaws of hypothermia.

That story found its way to USPS headquarters in Washington, D.C., resulting in official designation of Shakeara and Taishonna Stewart as bona fide USPS heroes.

The Stewarts met on Snapchat, an online platform. They have been married for six months.

After several weeks of rehab, Mitchell, although still scarred and bruised, remains very much of this Earth. She has installed a small plaster angel at the spot where she spent 16 hours shivering and praying on the ground.

“I will be eighty-six years young in October,” Mitchell said.

In the sunny center of Virginia, it was a lovely day for a happy ending.

“My wife has a very big heart,” Taishonna said.

“Better to give than receive,” Shakeara replied.

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