Wednesday, November 22, 2023

My beautiful friend, Dana

My beautiful friend, Dana...I hope her family get justice :( --- article copied from "The Advocate" Baton Rouge, Louisiana 

Several weeks after an inmate sued the Louisiana prison system, claiming medical negligence led to kidney failure, she died from complications related to that diagnosis, her family said. 

Dana Smith, 62, died Nov. 13 at a Baton Rouge hospital after multi-organ failure, her family said. She arrived at the hospital days after filing suit in late October, suffering from sepsis, pneumonia, a drug-resistant staph infection, damaged kidneys and the flu, they say. Eventually her children decided to remove their mother from life support.  

Beforehand, the family asked that their mother, who was in a medically induced coma for weeks, be unshackled. The hour before her death, Smith's children were told she was approved for "compassionate release" — a bittersweet outcome that at least allowed her to "die a free woman [so] we could have her body,” said Jewley White, one of her daughters.

But the timing "was the most twisted, heartbreaking, unfair and unjust thing I could ever imagine," she added.

Corrections department spokesman Ken Pastorick confirmed Smith was granted compassionate release Nov. 13. He declined to provide more information, citing the medical information involved and the litigation.

Smith was serving time for manslaughter, most recently at the Louisiana Correctional Institute for Women. Her family says their mother's longstanding, severe health issues were not taken seriously by prison administrators.

"I feel so much anger and guilt, and the opposite of faith," White said. "I cannot believe this is how her story ended."

The allegation comes on the heels of federal oversight being imposed over another state prison, the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola. The judge in that case characterized the medical care there as "abhorrent" and "cruel."

Untreated infection turned critical

In May 2022, a dentist at the prison filled one of Smith's teeth with a temporary filling and scheduled her to return in six months for a permanent one, the lawsuit says. But the temporary filling wore down, and food trapped in the tooth caused a gum infection, the lawsuit alleges, leaving her with facial swelling, headaches and unable to chew on one side.

In July, the dentist — who isn't named in the lawsuit — treated her again with a temporary filling. Smith was not given anything for the infection, the complaint says. It worsened, causing swelling down her neck. By November, Smith had requested several “emergency sick calls” for fever, swelling, pain and nausea, the lawsuit says.

The lawsuit claims that when she finally was allowed to see the dentist again, he "became irritated" and treated her "roughly" with the instruments. When Smith stood up from the chair to take a break from the pain, the dentist refused to finish the procedure, never refilled the tooth and didn't provide an antibiotic, the lawsuit says.

Eventually she saw medical staff, but the nurse wouldn't prescribe antibiotics, allegedly saying “there is nothing wrong with your mouth” after failing to examine her. The lawsuit says Smith begged for antibiotics but was denied both the medication and access to a doctor.

She was later repeatedly refused access to a doctor, including once by a nurse who said “she could not just walk in and demand medical attention,” the lawsuit claims.

She was finally pushed in a wheelchair by other inmates to the infirmary only to be told to return to her dorm, but was taken back again after losing control of her bowels, the lawsuit says. She was placed on the nursing ward and given a urine test — the results showed “an infection spilling into the urine from the blood stream,” which the nurses “either misinterpreted” as a standard urinary tract infection or “were grossly incompetent,” the complaint alleges.

“A doctor should have been called ... to review the urine analysis and order appropriate tests or send her to an emergency room,” the lawsuit says. “No blood work or labs were ordered.”

Over three days in the nursing ward, Smith suffered from delirium stemming from the infection, receiving little care, the lawsuit says.

At last, the lawsuit says, inmate orderlies insisted an ambulance be called. The arriving paramedics were “disgusted with the condition” the now incoherent Smith was in, the lawsuit says. The nurses lied and said Smith had been “‘fine’” the day before, the lawsuit claims.

For weeks afterward, Smith was treated for sepsis, which had caused “severe and acute kidney failure and damage.” It took months for her to be able to walk, and she was placed on dialysis several times, according to the complaint.

But once back at the prison, she was not allowed the special diet needed by a patient in renal failure nor granted proper medical treatment, the lawsuit says.

Smith was again hospitalized in late October of this year, suffering from complications related to her damaged kidneys, her family said.

"Deterioration" behind bars

Smith had a series of health problems while in prison. In 2018, Smith ended up in the ICU with a collapsed lung, and she was treated for colon cancer in 2017 with surgery and chemotherapy, her family said.  

"We basically watched our mom deteriorate," said Joshua M. Butler, Smith's son. "This is like an out of body experience, is the only way I can describe it. It does not feel real."

Smith was originally charged with second-degree murder in the 2002 killing of Nelson Dunbar, her former boyfriend, in a nearly decade-old cold case. She pleaded guilty to the lesser crime of manslaughter and in 2013 was sentenced to 25 years, a term later reduced to 20. 

Prior to their breakup, the couple was living in a Baton Rouge trailer where Dunbar was growing marijuana, according to court documents. Prosecutors said Smith and a man named Melvin Toups hatched a plan for Toups to break into the trailer to steal marijuana plants and money. Smith gave Toups a key to open the trailer.

Authorities said that while Toups was stealing the plants, Dunbar confronted him and the two fought. Toups beat Dunbar, then tied him up. Dunbar later died from his injuries, prosecutors said.

The prosecutor who argued the case said there was no intent to kill Dunbar.

For Smith's children, the experience of watching from the outside as their mother grew ever sicker behind bars was torturous. 

"My mom has always had us to advocate for her, and my heart truly breaks for the men and women who do not have anybody. I cannot imagine what it must be like," said Jolei Parrott, one of Smith's daughters. "I feel like my whole chest is ripping open."

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