Originally created 08/14/04

Ghastly death needless

A ghastly story out of Stuart, Fla., demonstrates the need for programs such as Meals on Wheels - not just because they see to it that elderly or ailing people get healthy meals, but because they and other human-service groups are often the only contact shut-ins have with the outside world.

If 40-year-old Floridian Gail Laverne Grinds had such contact, she might be alive today. In a story that's enough to turn one's stomach, the 4-foot-10 woman was so obese at 480 pounds that for the last six years of her life she couldn't get off her sofa, even to go to the bathroom.

By the time authorities found her, the filthy house's stench was so powerful that responders had to wear protective gear to get to her. Then they spent six hours trying to remove her from the couch. But after laying there a half-dozen years, Grinds' skin was grafted to the sofa, so emergency workers had to lift the couch with her on it onto a trailer to take her to a hospital where she died while surgeons were trying to un-graft her skin from the couch's fabric.

Grinds' hideous fate could have been averted if someone - an outsider such as a Meals on Wheels volunteer - had intervened into her life before she let her obesity totally incapacitate her.

Pathetically, instead of an intervener who could act in her best interests whether she wanted it or not, Grinds had an enabler - a man named Herman Thomas - who apparently thought he was being kind by accommodating her gross, bizarre lifestyle. He was not. His "help" was the death of her - and he may actually be facing some charges.

Homeless people get a lot more attention from a sympathetic public than shut-ins, because the homeless can at least get around and make their presence felt. That's not true of shut-ins.

Unless responsible, caring people know where the shut-ins are and look in on them, many awful things can happen. Grinds' case, of course, is unusual - but without a lifeline to the outside world, a person can starve, get sick or become a victim of thieves or hoodlums. There are any number of ways to suffer, but much of it can be relieved by an alert, conscientious community that has an interest in its neighbors.


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