Heat could be blamed for man’s death

A heat stroke could be to blame for the death of a Shawnee resident over the weekend. Capt. Travis Palmer of the Pottawatomie County Sheriff’s Office said Wesley Todd Gwaltney, 46, died early Sunday morning at his home on SH 3.
Gwaltney had been outside doing yard work from about noon to 5 p.m. Saturday and then left for a short time to do some work elsewhere, Palmer said. He returned home and was reportedly “staggering toward the door,” he said. Palmer said Gwaltney was sweating and appeared red, according to his elderly aunt who lives nearby. She helped him get into the house after he collapsed in the yard, then treated him with damp cloths for heat issues, Palmer said. She reported that she couldn’t get Gwaltney to drink any fluids, the captain said. About 2 a.m. Sunday, Palmer said the aunt went to check on him and he had died. While it appeared Gwaltney died from a heat stroke or heat-related illness, Palmer said his official cause of death is still pending with the state Medical Examiner’s office. “We’re awaiting results of the autopsy to ensure cause of death,” Palmer said. Cherokee Ballard, spokeswoman for the state Medical Examiner’s office, said Gwaltney’s cause of death had not yet been determined by late Monday; she said it could take a few days. Another Shawnee man died near Holdenville over the weekend, but it was unknown if heat might have played a factor in his death. Ballard said an official cause of death for Tim O’Dell, 28, is pending further test results with the state Medical Examiner’s office. As summer temperatures have been dangerously high during the past few days, crews from REACT Emergency Medical Service have received many calls for heat-related illnesses.
REACT EMS Clinical Operations Manager Robert Knight said Monday that paramedics responded to several calls for heat-related exhaustion over the weekend as many became hot and sick with the excessive temperatures. Knight urged everyone to take precautions in this summer heat. “Drink plenty of fluids and monitor your time out in the sun,” he said, adding many heat illnesses could be minor but can become more severe than a person realizes. There are three types of heat-related illnesses — heat cramps, heat exhaustion and the most serious, heat stroke, he said. A patient with heat cramps will typically have muscular pain and need to drink fluids, he said. When heat exhaustion occurs, it becomes more serious because the body has become dehydrated. A patient with heat exhaustion will likely have a headache, nausea, dizziness and vertigo and may have an “achy feeling,” Knight said. A patient with heat exhaustion usually has cool skin that is pale and moist because they are able to sweat, but they should seek medical treatment, Knight said. The most serious of the three conditions is a heat stroke, which can “sneak up” on a person and become deadly, Knight said. “The body’s cooling mechanism fails and the body temperature goes up so fast that it may damage the brain — and death can occur,” Knight said. A person suffering a heat stroke usually has dry skin because they’re unable to sweat; they become lethargic and need to immediately be cooled off, he said. Anyone suffering from a heat stroke will need an ambulance right away, Knight said. While the heat and lack of proper fluids can cause any of these heat illnesses, Knight said alcohol use increases dehydration, along with excessive exercise. Medical conditions, such as heart disease or those who take medications like diuretics for high blood pressure, are often more susceptible to heat illnesses, he said.
If anyone has trouble with consciousness or taking fluids, they should call 911 or get to their local emergency room, Knight said. Other signs of heat stress can include dizziness, rapid heartbeat, diarrhea, nausea, cramps, throbbing headache, chest pain, weakness, mental changes, breathing problems, or vomiting.