Tuesday, September 23, 2014
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Penn hospital seeks public's help to identify an unconscious patient

A patient in her 40s has lain in a hospital bed at HUP for nearly four months, unconscious, unresponsive and unidentified.

Penn hospital seeks public's help to identify an unconscious patient

The Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania released photos of an unidentified patient, unconscious for nearly four months, in hopes that someone will recognize her.
The Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania released photos of an unidentified patient, unconscious for nearly four months, in hopes that someone will recognize her.

She has lain in a hospital bed for nearly four months, unconscious, unresponsive and unidentified. Police have sent her fingerprints nationwide.

Social workers at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania have spent days sifting through missing person web sites, inviting in social service workers who might recognize her, calling community and health agencies.

Jane Doe — white, 5-feet, 5-inches tall and 140 to 150 pounds, probably in her 40s, with salt-and-pepper hair — went into cardiac arrest on a park bench in Kensington on the evening of Aug. 13. Although she was treated quickly — first by Philadelphia paramedics, then emergency room doctors at Aria Health’s Frankford campus, and, a few hours later, by the cardiac intensive care team at HUP — her heart did not regain a normal beat for at least 43 minutes, depriving her brain of oxygen.

The paramedics who tried to resuscitate her found nothing in her pockets, no slogans on her green T-shirt, nothing notable about her windbreaker, jeans shorts and white sneakers.

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Photos: Help identify Penn's Jane Doe
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She has no scars, no indication of drug use. About the only thing social workers have to go on are three names on three tattoos: “Bruce” (in a ribbon surrounded by a heart) on her left arm; “Dave” on her right arm; “David” on her left calf.

Jane and John Does arrive often in emergency rooms. But most are identified within hours. Queries to dozens of hospitals around the region turned up no memories of any that took more than a week or so.

“The longest was probably maybe close to four or five days,” recalled Edythe Shapiro, a social worker at Methodist Hospital. It was a couple of years ago, she said, when she managed to identify an uncouscious man on her unit by comparing a tattoo (the name turned out to be his mother’s), car registrations pulled by police (a small number of cars were parked in a lot near where he was found), and newspaper obituaries (his mother had died, and he was listed as a survivor). She located relatives, and he actually woke up a few days later.

So far there are fewer clues to the current Jane Doe, and her future is less positive. Although technically not in a coma — she sleeps at night, is awake during the day, and reacts to pain — she has not responded to commands or movement for four months.

Her eyes flutter open — sometimes wide — and closed according to no pattern, and she has little brain activity. Her condition, a persistent vegetative state, is similar that of Terri Schiavo, whose life support was removed amid national controversy in Florida five years ago.

“There is no chance of recovery or cognitive function,” Charles Baillie, her attending physician, said Friday. Nevertheless, the patient is stable, on only minor medications, and breathing on her own. She could be transferred to a longterm care facility that is capable of dealing with the tube in her neck that is mainly helping to humidify her throat.

The problem is, nursing homes will not accept a patient without guarantee of payment, which requires a social security number, which requires a name.

Anyone who thinks they might know the unidentified patient is asked to call social workers at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania at 215-662-2374 or 215-900-2441.

Read a longer version of this story.

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Check Up covers major health events in our region and offers everything from personal health advice to an expert look at health reform. Read about some of our bloggers here.

For Inquirer.com. Portions of this blog may also be found in the Inquirer's Sunday Health Section

Michael R. Cohen, R.Ph. President, Institute for Safe Medication Practices
Daniel R. Hoffman, Ph.D. President, Pharmaceutical Business Research Associates
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