Widow fights for 10 years to have her late husband's heart back

Jerry Carswell

September 3, 2013 4:01:55 PM PDT
A bizarre court battle is being waged over a man's heart. A woman wants her late husband's heart back which she says is still being stored in a Houston hospital years after his death.

By his wife Linda's account, Jerry Carswell had a heart of gold. The 61-year-old track coach died suddenly in 2004.

Linda said, "Jerry was a person who loved other people. He cared about people."

A nearly 10 year legal battle over his heart, which is in a lab at Christus St. Joseph Hospital, could finally be over. An appeals court lifted a stay that had allowed the hospital to hold onto the heart.

"We will get an urn and we will, as a family, bury the heart beside his body," Linda said.

Linda sued Christus because after Jerry's death at Christus St. Catherine Hospital, she had wanted a forensic autopsy by the medical examiner, in which evidence would be collected that could confirm or rule out her belief that drugs Jerry was given by the nurses had killed him.

A jury found Christus committed fraud in order to instead have its own pathologist perform a regular autopsy at partner hospital Christus St. Joseph, and that Christus failed to preserve evidence that could have been used by an independent pathologist to determine Jerry's cause of death, which is still undetermined.

Carswell's attorney Neil McCabe said, "What we have is a finding that they committed fraud on Mrs. Carswell, by telling her they were going to do an in-house autopsy that was going to be the same as it would happen if it was the medical center or an independent autopsy."

Linda was awarded nearly $2 million, but says she wants the heart so that she and her family can close this chapter.

"As a family we can respectfully bury Jerry and come to some sort of closure that we've done the right thing for the person we love," she said.

St. Joseph Medical Center issued the following statement:
"IASIS Healthcare acquired St. Joseph Medical Center in May of 2011, long after the unfortunate loss of Mr. Carswell which occurred when the hospital was owned by CHRISTUS Health. We intend to cooperate fully with the court's decision provided there are no further legal interventions in the case." -- Patrick Mathews, CEO, St. Joseph Medical Center

The attorney for the family says the hospital could still appeal this decision, but it appears both sides have reached an agreement.

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