KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Falls are the leading cause of injury-related death for adults age 65 and older, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the death rate is increasing.
Nearly 3 million older Americans are treated for fall injuries each year, with one in five having a serious condition like a broken bone or head trauma.
Retired and living alone, 76-year-old Joe Cologgi fell in his Knoxville home and couldn’t get up. On Wednesday he thanked first responders for saving his life.
"I was coming out of the kitchen and my knee collapsed," Cologgi said.
Clutching a bookshelf on the way down, Cologgi said he saw his life flash before his eyes.
"Something like this happens, you're reminded, enjoy the little things,” he said.
The bookshelf took a tumble, too, and that’s when he braced for impact.
"I consider myself very fortunate because one of the heavy vases broke right beside my head," Cologgi said.
He said he was unscathed by the bookcase, but he could not get up on his own. His knee is in bad shape, and his doctor told him he was in need of replacement surgery. He found himself in a tricky situation.
“You cannot walk anywhere to get your cell phone," he said.
Luckily, he planned ahead. He had a medical alert necklace.
"This helps me live more independently for as long as I can," he said.
Without his medical alert device, he said he is not sure where he would be right now.
During Wednesday's appreciation event, he was united for the first time in-person with Susan Rhodes. She is the West Knoxville ADT operator who answered his call for help and dialed 911.
At the event, she was recognized for her bravery, passion, and dedication to saving lives.
“I’m grateful for her,” Cologgi said.
Rhodes said her heart feels for Cologgi and she finds meaning in her job through success stories like his.
"Falls are real and they happen multiple times a day," Rhodes said.
Feelings were high for the two when they finally met in person.
"Very emotional,” Cologgi said.
"There are days that it is heart-wrenching," Rhodes said.
Cologgi said he's thankful for the opportunity to personally thank her and the Knoxville fire crew that came to his rescue.
"We don't do this for recognition but we certainly appreciate the level of recognition from our partners," Knoxville Assistant Fire Chief Mark Wilbanks said.
Fire officials said his medical device helped the fire crew get to Cologgi’s rescue within about six minutes.
"He could have laid in the floor for 24 hours and we never want that to happen to anyone," Wilbanks said.
A response time Joe's caretaker said she's thankful for.
"I don't want to lose him. He's very special to me,” she said.
"This is life. This is not a rehearsal. This is life," Cologgi said. He tries to live it as independently as he can but said he realizes the help of others is a necessity to living a full and happy life.
ADT recognized the Knoxville Fire Department for its partnership and urgency in situations like this one. The company donated $9,900 to the city. The assistant fire chief said it will go toward more rescue training.