Sad story 480-pound woman dies after six years on couch

  1. From Palm Beach Post

    480-pound woman dies after six years on couch

    By Pat Moore

    Thursday, August 12, 2004

    She lived in filth, so large she couldn't move from her sofa, even to use the bathroom.

    Early Wednesday, still fused to the couch, Gayle Laverne Grinds died following a six-hour effort by rescue workers who struggled to lift the 480-pound woman and get her to a Martin County hospital.

    Unable to separate the skin of the 39-year-old woman from her sofa, 12 Martin County Fire-Rescue workers slid both onto a trailer and hauled her behind a pickup to Martin Memorial Hospital South. She died a short time later.

    Sheriff's investigators questioned how Grinds lived in such conditions without more help from family or authorities.

    "We're not treating her death as suspicious at this point, but we do have an investigation started because the circumstances surrounding her death are so unusual," Martin Sheriff's Sgt. Jenell Atlas said.

    The Treasure Coast medical examiner performed an autopsy of the 4-foot-10 woman and listed her cause of death as "morbid obesity," officials said. Results of toxicology tests will take several weeks.

    "I tried to take care of her the best I could," said 54-year-old Herman Thomas, who lived with Grinds in the duplex apartment in Golden Gate, south of Stuart. "I tried to get her to get up, but it wouldn't do no good."

    He said the woman that he called his wife hadn't been off the couch for six years. No record of their marriage could be found.

    "I wish I could have pulled her off the couch, but she wouldn't let me," he said, covering his face and sobbing.

    Inside the home, the floor and walls were matted with feces, and trash was strewn across the floors, some which were bare concrete. Furniture was toppled, and pictures were knocked off walls.

    Atlas said sheriff's detectives will look for potential "negligence issues" related to her care and death.

    "We want to know what happened to her, how she ended up this way, and is she supposed to have been receiving any care," she said.

    Rescue workers were called to the home at 8:44 p.m. Tuesday by Grinds' brother and his girlfriend, who reported the woman had trouble breathing and "emphysema problems." The crew initially tried to remove her from the couch, but the pain was too excruciating.

    Workers wore protective clothing and installed large air handling hoses to ventilate the horrendous odor emitting from the home while trying to figure out how to get the woman and her couch to the hospital.

    The street in front of the row of duplex apartments turned into a makeshift construction site as rescue crews used hammers and chain saws to build a large wooden stretcher with handles cut around the perimeter so firefighters could lift the woman and the couch, Martin County Fire-Rescue District Chief Jim Loffredo said.

    After several failed attempts, including building one plywood plank that was too small to hold her, workers removed sliding glass patio doors at the back of the home, leaving a 6-foot opening large enough to get her out.

    They slid the couch with her on it onto the larger wooden plank supported by 2-by-4 boards, which were slid onto a utility trailer.

    "We couldn't get her in the ambulance," Loffredo said.

    The trailer was hooked to the back of a pickup, leaving the scene sometime after 2 a.m., witnesses said. Grinds died at 3:12 a.m., still attached to the couch, officials said.

    Neighbors who watched the lengthy rescue effort said they had never seen Grinds out of the home.

    Jerry Thomas, who lives across the street for six years, said he has seen young girls at the home on occasion but never knew Grinds was inside.

    "All we knew was the old man lived there," Thomas said. "I had no idea a woman ever lived in that house. Apparently she'd been on that couch a long time."

    Unidentified relatives expressed anger at the scene.

    "Family members are upset.... It's a difficult position," Martin County Fire-Rescue specialist Chris Wisniewski said.

    Clifford Grinds, who is believed to be Gayle Grinds' brother, refused comment and slammed a door when contacted by a reporter at his Hobe Sound home Wednesday afternoon.

    Court records show Gayle Grinds cared for a young niece and nephew after the death of her sister in 1992. Those children are now 19 and 15, but their whereabouts were unclear Wednesday.

    "We are used to going to people's houses when things are at their worst... and that's fine, we're trained for it," Atlas said. "But there is no warning for something like this."

    Atlas said a community policing deputy who worked the neighborhood a few years ago knew of Grinds but never had any dealings with her, and no deputy had ever been called inside the home.

    In June 2003, 911 dispatchers received a call from the home for medical assistance, but Martin County Fire Chief Tom Billington said he could not reveal the nature of that call, citing federal medical privacy laws and the ongoing investigation.

    The Department of Children and Families can intervene to help adults who are unable to care for themselves, but DCF officials said Wednesday they did not know about Grinds.

    Christine Demetriades, agency spokeswoman for the Treasure Coast, said DCF has no record of calls to the abuse hot line or reports before she died.
    Last edit by NRSKarenRN on Aug 14, '04 : Reason: added website link
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  4. by   traumaRUs
    We deal with an increasing number of morbidly obese patients in our ED. Our fire depts often use tarps to literally drag these people to the ambulance! We have several patients well over 700 lbs - finding an IV site is excruciating for all us, catheters are near to impossible too and trying CPR is hopeless. I am not a skinny-minnie by any stretch of the imagination but feel so very sorry for these people because their quality of life is nonexistent. I had contact with one lady who hadn't been out of her house in over a year! In that year - she had gained approx 150 lbs!
  5. by   pnurseuwm
    Actually, just now they said that she was 600 pounds. They said that her skin had grown into the upholstery of the couch. How can that happen? It sounds unreal.
  6. by   Marie_LPN, RN
    How would your skin grow into the upholstry and a person not develop bad skin ulcers and infections that would lead to a systemic infection?
  7. by   hoolahan
    How tragically sad. It reminds me of the movie, "What's Eating Gilbert Grape?" which I highly recommend to anyone who has never seen it. Those poor firemen, how thier backs can hold up, they have it worse than nurses I believe.

    That family should be soooo ashamed. How could anyone live like that?? How could they let anyone live like that? I have seen some disgusting homes, but 6 years worth of feces... Why didn't anyone at least clean up daily after her?? Gross! They should face charges of negligence.
  8. by   hoolahan
    Quote from Marie_LPN
    How would your skin grow into the upholstry and a person not develop bad skin ulcers and infections that would lead to a systemic infection?
    It probably was broken down and weeping,like a bad cellulitis, kind of like when you have a wet-to dry dressing that is REALLY stuck to the wound. And that is only after 24 hours!! I imagine it could grow into the skin the same way stiches do if they aren't removed in a timely manner.

    Maybe her exacerbation of COPD was brought on by sepsis. Or maybe it was just really related to septic shock.

    Does make you wonder how she lasted so long w/o this kind of complication developing earlier. Or even how she didn't have pneumonia from stasis. Or DVT's. I wonder just how long she was so very ill. I hate to say it, but I have seen people made to linger so as family can collect a SS check. But did she even get disability I wonder? SHAME on that family!!
  9. by   leslie :-D
    i have to agree that so much of this story seems preventable...even if she was a very difficult person to care for.

    this is one of the more horrific ones i've heard.
  10. by   reyna
    skin might have grown into the upholstery and she probably had alot of bad skin issues being left in the sofa with her own waste. this is very sad. the so called husband needs to answer for this. it's not enough for him to say
    from the article "I tried to take care of her the best I could," said 54-year-old Herman Thomas, who lived with Grinds in the duplex apartment in Golden Gate, south of Stuart. "I tried to get her to get up, but it wouldn't do no good."
    . that is unacceptable. shame on her so called family.
  11. by   nurseygrrl
    That's terrible. It sounds like her family may have been too ignorant to realize her needs and the severity of the situation. Very sad...
  12. by   Dixielee
    We had a similar situation several years ago in our ER. The man was not obese, but immobile. I have never seen or smelled anything so horrible in my life! He was in his 60's and had a hip replacement a year before we got him. His family said he was difficult to deal with before surgery and impossible afterward. EMS was called to his house after he had complained of increasing shortness of breath. He had been in the same hospital bed for 1 year, apparently never getting up. He had his family bring him food, urinals, bedpans, books, etc. and he just never got up. EMS had to literally extricate him from the bed. They said there was no mattress left under him and he had decubitus that were completely through to bone. The worst one on his back had eaten away to his lung. We had to intubate him and put in a chest tube in the ER. The initial plans were to take him to the burn tank for cleaning but he deteriorated too quickly and soon died. Apparently the family did not live with him but came by daily to give food and that was about it. They said he refused to let them help him and continuously berated them for trying, so they just stopped. I know that as an adult we have the right to make our own decisions, and sometimes they are fatal.
  13. by   Jill1215
    This is horrible! If she could not get up the husband (or whoever) had to bring her the food that was KILLING her! To sustain that weight she had to have been eating a lot of calories everyday. Her husband has a lot of responsibility for that outcome.
  14. by   ivsandy
    :angryfire having been a hha and a nurse for the local vna ,i was appalled to read of this poor woman's situation and needless suffering. noone should ever live in those conditions. can you just imagine laying in your own waste long enough to become fused to the sofa. people need to be held accountable for what happened to her. i am angry beyond believe.
    that just makes me beg all of you to pay attention to your neighbors and know who lives there .get involved if only to understand the big picture so that if you can help someone sooner,this will never happen to another human being.
    and here's what else angers me......if this had been an or elephant even,you would see protesters everywhere dogging the family and her "spouse" like you never see for a fellow human being.that is not right!!
  15. by   ivsandy
    BTW..".WHAT'S EATING GILBERT GRAPE "with Johnny Depp IS truley an excellent movie study about just such a woman and her family.I highly recommend it also.