Archive for Wednesday, August 13, 2003

Witness testifies of bed sores’ severity

August 13, 2003


In the photograph, the man is near death and almost naked, curled up on his right side in a hospital bed with his fists clenched. A black, infected sore the size of a saucer covers his exposed left thigh, with other, smaller sores visible nearby.

In another photo, a sore with black and gray spots covers the man's lower back and buttocks.

The man in the photos is 84-year-old Henry F. Harrell of Lawrence, who died last November of pneumonia and complications of bed sores that became infected and poisoned his blood. A prosecutor displayed photos of Harrell's wounds on Tuesday during a court hearing that will determine whether there's enough evidence to try Harrell's son and caretaker, Timothy, for second-degree murder.

"I've been a physician and a geriatrician for nearly 20 years, and I've never seen as bad a case of pressure ulcers in my whole career," Dr. Daniel Swagerty, an associate professor at the KU Med Center in Kansas City, Kan., testified Tuesday.

In addition to the bed sores, Henry Harrell was malnourished and dehydrated when he arrived Nov. 7 at Lawrence Memorial Hospital. He died Nov. 20.

Swagerty estimated the worst of Harrell's sores existed for a period of two to three months before his hospitalization. He described the black crust that covered some of the sores as the body's attempt to mend a large skin defect.

Instead of healing the wounds, it makes them more difficult to treat, he said.

At question in the hearing is whether Judge Michael Malone will find probable cause to show that Timothy Harrell, 44, showed an "extreme indifference for the value of human life" that brought about his father's death. In his cross-examination during the two days of the hearing, defense attorney Greg Robinson has painted a picture of his client as a man who tried to care for his father but was limited by a low mental ability.

Assistant Dist. Atty. Dave Zabel on Tuesday asked the physician, Swagerty, whether there was any way an adult could care for someone in the elder Harrell's condition without noticing the bed sores.

"He would have seen them, felt them and smelled them," Swagerty said.

A state social worker testified last week that he knew the elder Harrell was at potential risk for neglect a year before his death but didn't follow through because Timothy Harrell and his wife said they wanted to care for him at home.

Timothy Harrell is free on bond but nearly had it revoked Tuesday after he showed up late twice for court -- both in the morning and after a noon recess. His hearing continues Aug. 26.

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