Why Can’t Linda Carswell Get Her Husband’s Heart Back?

After an inconclusive autopsy report, Jerry Carswell’s heart remains in a refrigerated cabinet in a hospital lab instead of being buried with him. In a mission to get it back, his wife learned the truth about the shocking flaws in the death investigation process.

By Marshall Allen from ProPublica

Why Can’t Linda Carswell Get Her Husband’s Heart Back?Dan Winters
“Your husband is dead,” the doctor told Linda Carswell.

Jerry Carswell had been admitted to Christus St. Catherine Hospital in Katy, Texas, with kidney stones. The previous night, he’d been talking about basketball and the upcoming presidential election with his son Jordan. The plan was for the 61-year-old to be discharged that morning.

Instead, at about 5 a.m., a phlebotomist entered Jerry’s room to draw blood and found him lying across the bottom of his bed, not breathing, mottled and blue, without a pulse. Staffers performed CPR for 25 minutes to no avail. Carswell was pronounced dead at 5:30 a.m. on January 22, 2004.

Linda and Jordan rushed to Jerry’s bedside; she shrieked and grabbed her husband’s cold hands, trying in vain to stir him.

The on-call doctor suggested that the Carswells authorize an autopsy if they wanted more information on the cause of death, launching the family on a traumatic journey that still isn’t over.

Clinical autopsies, once commonplace in American hospitals, are now conducted in just 8.5 percent of hospital deaths. Grief-stricken families like the Carswells desperately want the answers an autopsy can provide. But they often do not know their rights in dealing with either coroners or medical examiners, who investigate unnatural deaths, or health-care providers, who delve into natural ones.

The Carswells’ case would play out in pathology labs, lawyers’ offices, and courtrooms for more than eight years. It led to a rare $2 million fraud judgment against Christus St. Catherine and state legislation designed to strengthen families’ entitlement to comprehensive, independent postmortem reviews.

It has not, however, led to closure or accountability. Jerry Carswell’s cause of death remains unknown. He also has not been laid fully to rest. His heart sits in a refrigerated cabinet in a hospital lab to this day.

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  • Your Comments

    • Rickbennette

      If the hospital administration staff refuses to discuss the details of a patient’s case with loved ones, it is a given that they are trying to cover something up. It should be mandatory that they come forth with the truth, or face an automatic forfeit of all patient billing for all related procedures, as well as paying a fixed fee to the family. No business covers up details like this if they know they did everything right, and lying to the family is a HUGE injustice that deserves immediate mandatory punishment.

    • Original Anna

      Why can’t a judge order the hospital to return the heart? And if they don’t, send in the police, or do send in the police without warning the hospital. The hospital doesn’t own your records and your heart is one of your records. Why is the hospital getting away with keeping the heart and a court judge isn’t using their power to get the heart. Isn’t it a part of the investigation which is evidence and the police should have it not the suspects. I don’t get it. 

    • Guest

      I worked in a Hospital for 28 years. I over heard the MM Reports, and the mistakes the Doctors made.  A year ago my boyfriend was in the Hospital for a small surgery.  The surgeons, and ICU staff screwed up big time, and killed him. Then the Hospital stepped in and started covering things up. Dr’s don’t like it want you question them about anything.