Soldier’s Mother Moves Past Autopsy to Advocate Legislation
Story date: 11/01/2006
by Judi Finn
The autopsy report on her 41-year-old Maine Army National Guard Capt. Patrick Damon who died June 15 while serving in Afghanistan, is completed, said his mother Barbara Damon Day of Newcastle, but not definitive.
Day met last week with Army Col. Paul Cordts of the U.S. Medical Corps and director of health policy and services, and with two medical examiners, Navy Capt. Craig Mallak and Army Reservist Maj. Donna Hunsakker, who performed the autopsy, both of Dover, Del., where the military mortuary is located. The meeting was held in Falmouth at Hilde Halley’s home, widow of Patrick Damon.
Initially Damon’s sudden death after collapsing on his bunk was believed to be due to a heart attack. “There was a slight amount of scarring in Pat’s heart,” Day was told at the briefing, but not enough to cause arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat) or to stop his heart from beating. “He had no coronary disease,” she said. Prior to his death, Damon went for a run. The temperature was in the 80s with low humidity.
Day was most surprised by one piece of information – her son weighed 186 pounds when he died, more than 20 pounds heavier than normal, she said. “Pat weighed in the 160s,” said Day, and in Army physical records his weight ranged between 158 and 162.
A photo of Damon her daughter-in-law retrieved from Damon’s computer taken sometime in the three months he was in Afghanistan shows a different person. “I would have walked past him,” said Day, and not recognized her own son. His lips, face and neck were swollen as well as his body. “They have no explanation of that.” She said changes began prior to his deployment. “He was always short of breath.” His allergies were acting up, too.
Day has from the beginning believed drug and immunization reactions contributed to his death, that and a poor medical response time on June 15, 35 minutes. Fellow reservists administered CPR but responders with proper equipment and drugs were delayed.
“They gave Ciproflex to Pat, 5mg for 30 days, and the only use we know of is for a urinary tract infection or anthrax exposure. They gave it as an anti-malarial drug, but Pat didn’t believe it,” she said. Day researched the drug and said it can cause heart problems. In the last Internet posting by Damon his face had sores from the drug and his breathing was labored in Day’s last conversation with her son.
“He did not have a pre-deployment physical,” Day said, and should have had a strict physical as called for when a reservist is over 40. “He had no EKG.” She said her son filled out a health assessment. “Sign here, you’re ready to go.”
On Oct. 20, U.S. Representative Mike Michaud came to Day’s home to pay his respects. “He knew Pat and worked with him,” when both men were in Augusta, Damon as an aide to four different Speakers of the House and Michaud as a legislator.
“I gave him seven pieces of potential legislation, related to the next mother who gets a visit at the door,” Day said.
The most important one to Day is due to its immediacy. Within the next 60 days there could be a mandatory anthrax vaccination law for the military and she wants this stopped. She wants both pre- and post- deployment physicals mandated by Congress to make the military comply. There should be adequate medical care and supplies for sick soldiers to reduce non combat deaths.
Also, lines of communication should be improved between families of dead soldiers and government/military officials. The scope of next of kin services needs to be broadened. Day said she was included at meetings because her daughter-in-law signed a release. As it stands now, services are extended to a soldier’s spouse, or if single, the parents. Technically, as the pro-tocol stands, “I couldn’t find out why my son died, the woman who gave birth.”
“Pat’s family – what we have received should be included as the model,” Day said.
Day wants the National Institute of Health to be linked with the military and given power over all medical issues.
Congressional action could also insure access to the Defense Medical Surveillance System Data Base. Day explained that since 1988, all diagnoses of out patients and in patients at military treatment facilities for active duty and reservists have been recorded.
The data could be used to track possible immunization and drug reactions and long term effects. Right now the Department of Defense will not relinquish control, according to Day, and only allows the Center for Disease Control to study subsets of data extended out 18 weeks.
“I think for the future protection of folks in the military it is key to be able to access the data base,” said Day.
Following the autopsy meeting, Day said, “We all felt the military was there, the two medical examiners, to tell us the military had done nothing wrong.” They do not have an answer to why Damon died, and Day was told “if we have any ideas to let them know.”
Day used the contacts she made during her personal meeting with President Bush in Kennebunk on Aug. 24, and called Brigadier Gen. Richard Tubb, assistant to the president, and asked him, “What if they say ‘we don’t know’.” His advice was to write a letter to President Bush and document the answers she has received and indicate what questions remain unanswered so a record is established, which she plans to do.
In the meantime, the Congressional inquiry into Damon’s death that Day requested has been forwarded to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.
“I’m at the point now where I have to think confidently and clearly about how to proceed,” said Day.