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Family questions suspicious death of disabled uncle

When an elderly uncle passed away at a state institution, his niece had no idea it was due to horrific neglect on the part of the staff.

In 1955, the patient had a radical brain operation, or lobotomy, which had severed connections in his head, resulting in transforming a vivacious young man into an incoherent individual with the mental capacity of a child. The family had never been consulted prior to the procedure.

The man's life was marked by a constant cycle of bouncing around from nursing homes to other care facilities. In the last years of his life, he seemed to be at peace at the latest facility, a treatment center with a few dozen patients, many of them elderly. In spite of his disability, the man lived to be 82.

When he died, his relatives never questioned the official explanation for the cause of death. The staff claimed he had a choking incident early on the day of his death, but his airways had been cleared. They told the family he had a heart attack.

When relatives heard a description of an alleged choking death in a local newspaper, something rang true. They learned the facility had been fined for mislabeling feeding instructions that had resulted in the choking death of a resident.

The department of human services tagged the death an isolated incident, but disciplinary action had been levied on the staff following the incident. The family kept digging and eventually found a spokesperson who was able to confirm their suspicions the victim was their uncle.

Relatives reported they had always been satisfied by the treatment their uncle had received throughout the years, but now say the elderly resident was a victim of an insensitive staff and just another disabled person that no one cared about.

The family is seeking legal advice to see if there are grounds for a lawsuit.

The elderly and infirm living in homes and facilities are people whose rights and dignities should be preserved. When institutions treat residents with abuse or neglect, families are entitled to exposing the truth and seeking compensation for their pain and suffering.

Source: usatoday.com, "Lobotomy patient twice wronged while in state care" Tony Leys, Jan. 05, 2014

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