RUMFORD – On Dec. 7, one of the coldest and windiest nights this winter, a Mexico man reaching for his keys, struck his head, fell unconscious in his yard and wasn’t found until the next morning.

John Harlow, a 19-year heating service technician at Community Energy in Rumford, was rushed to Rumford Hospital where he was listed as dead on arrival, according to co-worker Rose Marie Woods of Community Energy.

However, Harlow was revived, stabilized and rushed to Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston where he underwent several surgeries to his badly frostbitten hands, Woods said on Wednesday afternoon.

Doctors are now trying to save his hands, but he will be out of work for up to a year or more. He also faces intense rehabilitation and, possibly, more surgeries, Woods said.

“His medical bills are just astronomical,” she said. “Whether he’ll be able to work again, I don’t know.”

To help, Community Energy coworkers began organizing a fundraiser in early January called Harlow’s Helping Hands Benefit. It will be held on Saturday, Feb. 28, at the Eagles Club in Rumford.

From 4 to 6 p.m., there will be a pork loin dinner with potluck side dishes and desserts, for $5 a person. The Good Food Store of Bethel is helping with the food. Takeout tickets are also available.

There will be raffles, a Chinese auction, and a dance from 7 p.m. to midnight with music provided by Formerly Monsta. Tickets for the dance are $5 a person.

As news about the benefit spread across western Maine, support and donations grew beyond belief, Woods said.

“It’s been very overwhelming, the support. People are just incredible. This has been an awesome thing,” she said.

Part of that success she attributes to Harlow.

“John is just an awesome worker. Our customers love him. He’s just an all-around nice guy who’s very friendly and very well liked. He’s always been an excellent worker,” she said.

Among the major donations for the raffles are a one-night stay at SkiEsta for four to 10 people with free dining catered at the luxury, 10-bedroom home located near Sunday River Ski Resort in Newry. Raffle tickets are $10 each.

A triple raffle for $5 a ticket offers prizes of a Rinnai 550 LP heater valued at $1,550, a Broil Master LP gas grill worth $825, and 100 gallons of No. 2 heating oil from Community Energy (within a 30-mile radius).

Also donated were eight Red Sox tickets worth a total of $1,160, to the April 8 game against Tampa Bay. Four are for front row seats behind first base and the other four are field box tickets. They will be raffled at $2 a ticket or $6 for 10.

As donations continue to roll in and the list of raffle and auction items grow, Harlow undergoes 1 hours daily of painful stretches of his hands and fingers at Rumford Hospital.

He’s now living at his mother’s home. Harlow said Wednesday afternoon that he also has no recollection of the incident or his struggle to live while hospitalized.

“There’s nothing I can do with my hands,” he said.

“I mean, it’s getting to the point where I can now, but in the beginning, there was nothing I could do. It was either go to a nursing home or kind of come to my mom’s.

“Basically, I’m relearning how to use my hands again, because they don’t move, I can’t make a fist, and they can’t straighten out. My hands are basically like you can’t take a turkey out of the freezer and unthaw it and have it come back to life. It will be a long recovery process,” Harlow said.

For more information about the benefit or to help, contact Woods at [email protected] or 364-3719.

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