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Emory Sleep Study Death Stirs Controversy

The family of Brandon Harris, a twenty-five year old man who died last month during a sleep apnea test, has called for the closure of the Emory Healthcare Sleep Clinic until Harris’s death can be reviewed.

While Emory has issued a statement that Harris’s death was the result of a sudden cardiac arrest, and that the hospital attended to this crisis properly, Harris’s family tells a different story. They describe a situation where Brandon Harris failed to receive timely attention and care from the hospital staff, and claim that it was medical negligence which took his life. Harris’s family is calling for a full review of events.

The DeKalb County Medical Examiner’s office has already ruled in their own inquiry that there is no need for further investigation. Harris died of a sudden cardiac death, and his previous medical history was believed to account for this. Harris suffered from Type 2 diabetes and was overweight. He was said to have had heart problems in the past by family friend, Michael Langford. According to the office, they do not investigate standard of care issues.

“He had significant medical problems … He had a medical history that could explain a sudden death,” said Paul Kelhofer, the medical examiner’s office director.

The study in which Harris participated is considered low risk. Participants were not given drugs or any other substances. They simply slept while monitored by trained medical professionals, who could observe signs of sleep apnea – a condition often associated with obesity, hypertension and heart failure. The study was performed on patients who were considered stable.

Renee “Sunshine” Lewis, Brandon Harris’s mother, does not argue that her son did not have medical problems, or that his death was caused by the tests themselves. What she and the rest of her family dispute is that her son would be dead if he had received immediate, quality care. According to them, Harris had tried to get some attention before he died, and no one was paying attention to his distress.

John Lewis, Harris’s uncle, claims that the hospital allowed him to watch the video footage of his nephew at the sleep center the night that he died. According to his account, Harris waved seven times over the course of forty minutes, attempting to attract the attention to his distressed state, and that in those forty minutes, no one responded. A nurse only responded when Harris removed his sensors, got up and went to the restroom. That nurse did not remain to investigate, however, and Harris returned to bed.

Only later did three nurses return to find him apparently in discomfort. Harris attempted to stand, but collapsed, finally eliciting a call for emergency response personnel.

“There is no reason he should have been neglected like that,” Lewis said

“We never knew he’d be dead,” Renee Lewis explained. “Brandon did not receive the appropriate care from [the sleep center]. Actually, in my opinion, he received no care at all.”

Whatever the outcome of this disagreement, it is clear that Brandon Harris’s family will not be satisfied until it receives the attention which it is due.