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Thursday, April 21, 2011

Illinois Nursing Home patient Alvin Rudsinski, died of morphine overdose but wasn't prescribed the drug

BY DAN ROZEK Staff Reporter Chicago Sun-Times | Apr 21, 2011

An 84-year-old Woodstock nursing home patient died of a morphine overdose even though medical records show the powerful pain-killer had not been prescribed for him, a doctor testified Thursday.

Alvin Rudsinski had an enlarged heart and Alzheimer’s disease when he died on Aug. 15, 2006, but a later autopsy indicated the drug — not those illnesses — killed him, Cook County Medical Examiner Dr. Nancy Jones said.

“Mr. Rudsinski died as a result of morphine intoxication,” said Jones, a pathologist who has performed more than 10,000 autopsies.

McHenry County prosecutors called Jones to testify at the trial of former nursing director Penny Whitlock, who is accused of allowing one of her employees at the Woodstock Residence nursing center to overmedicate patients with morphine.

Whitlock, 62, was charged with criminal neglect and obstruction of justice after a lengthy investigation into the suspicious deaths of six patients there in 2006.

Though other employees warned that nurse Marty Himebaugh allegedly was giving patients excessive doses of morphine, Whitlock took no action — except to dub Himebaugh the “Angel of Death,” prosecutors contend.

Himebaugh, 60, is awaiting trial on charges of criminal neglect and improperly dispensing morphine.

Neither woman was charged directly in the deaths of any patients at the 115-bed nursing home in the far northwest suburb.

Jones said tissue samples taken during an April 2007 autopsy after Rudsinski’s body was exhumed showed he had been given morphine.

That result was unexpected, Jones said, because nursing home records showed the narcotic had never been prescribed for him.

Another elderly, ailing patient who died at the nursing home and was later exhumed also had morphine in her body, Jones testified, though she stopped short of blaming the drug for the death.

Morphine had been prescribed for Virginia Cole, 78, who had heart problems and Alzheimer’s. Jones said she could not determine whether the drug had killed Cole, but she could find no medical reason why Cole died on Sept. 10, 2006.

“None of her underlying natural disease processes would explain her dying at the time she did,” Jones said.

Several nurses have testified that they saw Himebaugh leave Cole’s room not long before her death.

Defense attorney Nils von Kreudell repeatedly questioned Jones about a toxicology report that indicated it was not possible to determine whether morphine had caused Rudsinski’s death. The toxicologist, Laura Labay, is expected to testify next week on behalf of Whitlock.

Jones disputed her finding. “I would expect her to say that,” Jones said of Labay. “Her expertise is determining how much of a drug is in a body. My expertise is in determining the cause of death.”

If convicted, Whitlock could face up to three years in prison.


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