LEXINGTON, S.C. (WIS) - A Lexington County family is working to get COVID-19 removed from their mother’s death certificate.
68-year-old Brenda Grist died on October 5th, after her children Robin Hooke and Ryan Brown say she battled dementia for five years. “She went downhill quickly, even according to her neurologist who was following her care. She just went downhill extremely quickly,” said Hooke. “Her kidneys were shutting down due to the terminal dementia.”
Hooke says her mother received a negative COVID-19 test at Carolina Gardens in West Columbia on September 9th, but she was admitted to Lexington Medical Center on September 10th for kidney failure, where she tested positive for the virus. “COVID-19 we were told by two physicians at Lexington Medical Center did not affect her at all,” explained Hooke who says her mom was completely asymptomatic. “It was her kidneys shutting down. It was her brain shutting her body down, which is what happens in terminal dementia.”
Ten days after receiving a positive COVID-19 test, Hooke says her mother tested negative for the virus and received two additional negative COVID-19 tests after being moved to PruittHealth-Ridgeway. Nearly two weeks later, she says her mom had a seizure and died in the ambulance on the way to Providence Health-Northeast. “I immediately told them my mother was an organ donor, and they said that because of COVID, our mother would not be able to donate her organs,” said Hooke. “We were both in shock. I said she doesn’t have COVID. Other than the dementia, she was healthy as a horse,” she explained. “Her heart could have saved someone; her lungs could have saved someone.”
When Hooke and Brown received their mother’s death certificate last Thursday, they were shocked to see COVID-19 listed as her primary and only cause of death. “My brother and I are very angry,” Hooke explained. “That’s not why she died.”
The doctor who signed off on the death certificate told WIS he could not comment on this case or his judgment in listing COVID-19 on death certificates.
Lexington County Coroner Margaret Fisher and Richland County Coroner Gary Watts say their offices are working to make sure COVID-19 deaths in their counties are accurate. “If they test negative for COVID, and then they die of their comorbidities then COVID will not be listed on their death certificate as far as my office is concerned,” explained Fisher. Watts agreed, saying “If someone has tested negative once, twice or especially three times, they weren’t showing any symptoms of the disease, and they had a significant comorbidity that certainly is terminal then that comorbidity should be the cause of death, not put COVID there just because they had a previous positive test weeks or months before.”
Brenda Grist’s family says they want COVID-19 removed from their mom’s death certificate, but their top priority is to get dementia listed. “Death certificates are really valuable in the future for genealogy reasons,” said Hooke. “Dementia is a hereditary disease, and our great-grandchildren may need to know that their great grandmother had dementia if they are ever diagnosed with it.”
Corner Watts also notes the number of deaths from dementia is important for research and funding.
Both Watts and Fisher tell WIS inaccurate death certificates from COVID-19 are not that common, but they say they have corrected a few. WIS will continue to investigate this story and others and bring you new details as they develop.