Couple save man from hypothermia
June 25, 2008 · Updated 12:30 PM
"A man stuck up to his chest in muck in a Maxwelton Valley marsh Thursday night may owe his life to a calm South Whidbey night and the sharp ears of a neighbor.At about 8 p.m. Thursday, Clinton's Michael Knowles, 50, became mired up to his chest in a Maxwelton Valley marsh while walking the fields on his sister's farm. Unable to move from a bush in the midst of the water, he began calling through the dark for help.Where he was, Knowles had little chance of being heard. The nearest homes were several hundred yards away. The fog had settled in and every direction looked the same.I couldn't see where I was at anymore. Everywhere I went there was more and more water, Knowles said Tuesday. I was getting to the point I couldn't yell anymore.Fortunately, someone was listening.Doug Slattum had just gone to bed when the first cries for help floated through the open window of his bedroom. One of those rare people who likes fresh air while he sleeps, Slattum said he keeps his window open in all weather -- even on cold autumn nights. The noises he heard Thursday night were nothing liked the mooing cows in the field or the passing cars that are usual near his Kirk Hill Road home.Just out of the blue, I heard this noise outside, Slattum said. It didn't sound right.After listening for a time, both Doug and his wife, Ann, could hear that the noise was not coming from a cow or a car.I thought I heard 'Help, I'm stuck,' Doug said.That was the kicker. The couple got in their car along with their son, Tyler, and drove out to find where the cries were coming from. Using a spotlight powered by the car's cigarette lighter, the Slattums searched the swamps and wetlands near their home. But whenever they drove closer to where they thought Knowles was, the more faint his voice became. After about 30 minutes of fruitless searching, they drove home and called 911.Ann Slattum said she prayed that someone would find the man.I started praying for that man, she said. I asked God to help him.Island County Sheriff's deputies were the first searchers on scene. They were soon followed by a half dozen Fire Protection District 3 fire engines and medical vehicles. FD3's volunteers lit the countryside with huge, boom-mounted spotlights and began combing through the brush and water.Along with the deputies, the firefighters searched the swamp for more than an hour before they discovered Knowles stuck in mud and water up to his chest, several hundred yards from the nearest road. He was cold and definitely could not get out of the mud on his own. FD3 Captain Mike Cotton said Knowles was definitely in need of rescuing.It was cold out there and he was soaking wet, Cotton said.The rescuers carted Knowles out of the marsh on a stretcher. He was transported to Whidbey General Hospital to be treated for hypothermia. Knowles said the paramedics who treated him measured his body temperature at 85 degrees. Even Knowles questioned whether he would have made it until morning or not.You know, I don't know, he said.Ann Slattum said she and her husband received a call from a sheriff's deputy later that night, informing them that Knowles had been found. The deputy told her they had probably saved the man's life. An entire night in cold water might well have killed him. According to the deputy, no other neighbor in the Maxwelton Valley heard Knowles while he was crying for help.Knowles said he did not know until Tuesday who had heard his cries. He said he was thankful that they did. He also had a piece of advice for people walking the marshlands late in the day.Don't go out there at night, he said. "