HOUSTON - Nine years after her husband died unexpectedly in a hospital, Linda Carswell is still fighting to get his heart back.
Jerry Carswell, a state championship-winning high school track coach, died in 2004 while hospitalized for kidney stones. Christus St. Catherine Hospital, where he died, promised a full autopsy, but did not perform toxicology tests that could have determined whether the painkillers Carswell was given had anything to do with his death.
His heart was also kept by the hospital that conducted the autopsy -- something Linda Carswell found out well after her husband's burial.
She sued St. Catherine for medical malpractice and won a nearly $2 million judgment three years ago. The jury found that while St. Catherine did not cause Carswell's death through negligence, it fraudulently got Linda Carswell's permission for an autopsy she found to be incomplete.
A state appeals court in Houston last week reaffirmed much of that judgment. It also lifted a stay the hospital had sought to keep the heart from being turned over to Carswell, according to her attorney, Neil McCabe.
But it's unclear, after nearly a decade of legal battles, when Carswell will be allowed to put the heart and the issue to rest -- or why Christus wants to prevent the heart from being turned over.
Christus said in a statement Wednesday that it would appeal the issue of whether it fraudulently got Linda Carswell's permission for the autopsy to the Texas Supreme Court. But Abby Lowe McNeil, a company spokeswoman, said Christus would not file any more motions related to Carswell's heart tissue.
St. Joseph Medical Center, the hospital that conducted the autopsy, said in a statement to Houston television statement KTRK that officials "intend to cooperate fully with the court's decision provided there are no further legal interventions in the case."
That would suggest that Linda Carswell is close to winning her battle. McCabe said he continues to work with St. Joseph's management to finalize a resolution and retrieve the heart.
The heart on its own could not be used to prove that Jerry Carswell died wrongfully, since its location and care likely cannot be fully traced, McCabe said.
Its value to Linda Carswell and her family is strictly emotional. They would like to place his heart in an urn and bury it beside his body.
"As a family we can respectfully bury Jerry and come to some sort of closure that we've done the right thing for the person we love," she told KTRK.