ATLANTA, Ga. -- An Atlanta man, admitted to Emory Healthcare two weeks ago for help with a sleep disorder, died hours later -- mysteriously and violently, according to his family, and on Thursday they demanded answers. But Emory said the man's sudden death was not related to the care he received at Emory.
"He was fine before he got there," said Renee "Sunshine" Lewis, the mother of the patient who died, 26 year old Brandon Harris.
Harris had been seeking treatment for his sleep apnea, a condition that causes the person afflicted to stop breathing repeatedly for short periods of time during sleep.
On January 22, Lewis said, her son's physician arranged for him to be admitted to Emory Healthcare at Wesley Woods on Clifton Rd., NE, for tests as part of Emory's on-going study of sleep apnea.
Lewis said her son went in that evening; early the next morning, Lewis found out her son had died.
She saw his body.
"Blood was coming out, and was all over his face and his head. And that's not consistent with a sleep study. There was a bed with two pillows. How could all this happen?"
Lewis broke down, crying, while friends and community activists picketed on the sidewalk outside the facility, with signs bearing photos of Brandon and bearing statements such as, "You don't go to a sleep study to die."
"He should not have had blood on him," Lewis said. "He should not have had a knot on his head. He should not have had lacerations [on] his head. He should not have had, what looked like to me, choke marks around his neck. Whatever he died from, he should not have been bruised and injured."
She said she wants an apology from Emory.
Emory Healthcare Spokesman Lance Skelly declined to comment on specifics, but e-mailed a statement to 11Alive News:
"The death of a young man is always tragic. Our doctors, nurses and caregivers share the sense of loss felt so keenly by this family and friends, and we are committed to providing the best care possible. The care he received while at Emory was appropriate given his medical condition. We have and will continue to address the family's questions and concerns."
Brandon Harris did have other medical problems, which his mother said were all under control with medication, and which the Emory physicians knew were part of his history.
The Fulton County Medical Examiner's office told 11Alive News that Harris had no visible signs of trauma and that his medical history could have contributed to his death. The Medical Examiner did not specify the exact cause of death.
In November, 2005, the New England Journal of Medicine published a study that concluded that sleep apnea significantly increases risk for stroke, heart failure and death.
But the medical examiner did not find evidence of stroke or heart failure in connection with Brandon Harris' death.
The family, along with Michael Langford of the United Youth Adult Conference, called on Emory to stop its sleep studies in order to investigate their safety.
"Because as we speak," Langford said, "there are likely people who are preparing to come and be a part of this sleep study, and we say to you, stop."
Emory does have a video of Brandon Harris from that night/morning which his family said in a statement is "evidence that while in Emory's care, Brandon was mistreated and his attempts to call for help were ignored while a nurse stood idly by as he struggled to free himself from the equipment he was attached to."
The family called on Emory to let them have a copy of that video.