PHOENIX — Henry Morello prayed to Saint Anthony, the patron of lost causes. But as the 84-year-old spent a fifth night stuck in a ditch in the Arizona desert, he started to lose hope.
"My phone went dead, my battery went dead, and I went dead," Morello said.
But Morello lived to tell his tale Tuesday at a Phoenix hospital, where the diabetic man was admitted in good condition despite drinking windshield wiper fluid to stay hydrated.
He didn’t have water, Morello said, so he broke open the wiper fluid container with a rock and filtered it with napkin to try to make it safe.
Morello said he made a wrong turn while driving home Feb. 7 from the Phoenix suburb of Cave Creek and ended up stuck in the desert north of the city, near the state’s major north-south road for Grand Canyon-bound travelers.
Morello said he became stranded when — realizing he took a wrong turn — he made a U-turn and wound up in a ditch. He tried to crawl out of the car, but did not get far and returned.
He ripped a chrome piece from his car and put it on the roof, hoping someone would see the reflection.
A pack of hikers found him Saturday morning. He heard a knock on a window from a hiker, and suddenly his long, painful ordeal was over.
"I just kissed him," Morello said of the hiker. "He looked like an angel to me."
The unidentified hikers were not part of the 100 volunteers who passed out fliers and searched for Morello since Wednesday, but they knew he was missing, said Jim Sheehan, a friend who helped organize a search team.
"Nobody ever gave up," said Sheehan, who was on a search plane when he got a call saying Morello had been found.
Morello said he used car mats to stay warm and even read a car manual from cover to cover to pass time. Nights were hardest because he would get scared, he said.
Overnight temperatures the week he was missing were in the upper 30s to the mid-40s, the National Weather Service said. His car and cell phone battery went dead early in the ordeal.
Doctors at John C. Lincoln Hospital said he arrived in good condition considering what he had been through. Morello will remain there for a few days while he is treated for kidney damage.
Dr. Kevin Veale said initial reports were that Morello had consumed some antifreeze, which would have been much worse than wiper fluid.
Morello’s nephew, Carl Morello, said his family in Chicago was overjoyed to hear that his uncle was found alive. "Miracles still do happen," Carl said.
Morello lives on his own but a caregiver visits daily. He won’t be driving by himself for a long time, said Sheehan.
Morello said he learned another lesson from his adventure: "I’ll never drive without water."