On April 30, 2007, in Washington, DC, The National Coalition for Women with Heart Disease (WomenHeart) presented Richard Keller, MD, Coroner of Lake County, IL with their 2007 Wenger Award for Excellence in Public Policy.
“The Wenger Awards were inaugurated in 2000 to honor Dr. Nanette Kass Wenger, a world-renown cardiologist who has long championed the need for improved research and treatment of heart disease in women”. (http://www.womenheart.org/)
The award was granted based on the events surrounding the death of Beatrice Vance on July 29, 2006. Her death investigation results were taken to Inquest and the jury, based on the facts of the case, found “homicide” to be the manner of her death from an acute myocardial infarction.. Their verdict was based on their opinion that the death resulted from “a gross deviation from (the) standard of care which a reasonable person would exercise in the situation”.
The case at the time of verdict engendered considerable national media attention, including medical media outlets for the American Medical Association and American College of Emergency Physicians. Since that time, the case has been used in teaching women to advocate for themselves, in teaching at medical schools and to hospital medical staffs around the country. It continues to bring about personal change and is serving as a catalyst for system change, so that her death is not repeated elsewhere.
During his acceptance speech, Dr Keller admonished those present to “push for changes in emergency care, nationwide, so that it becomes impossible for a 49 year old woman to die of a treatable disease process 20 feet from diagnosis and treatment. The problem here is bigger than a problem at a single hospital, it is a system problem. No one should be prosecuted for her death, but it should not be disregarded, either. We must do everything we can to forestall death, to keep folks out of the Coroner’s office for as long as possible”.
Dr. Keller accepted the award “on behalf of my Office and the deputy primarily involved in the investigation of the death, the jury who found for “homicide”, and Ms Vance, that her death may contribute to system change and the prevention of future deaths under similar situations”.
So there I was getting ready to go up in front of 100 or so folks and I decided to take one more bite of the sorbet they served for dessert. The humidity in the room caused the glass that the sorbet was in to sweat. The sweat dripped onto my leg fairly high up, if you know what I mean. Thank goodness, I had on slacks that dried quickly and I was able to go up front, accept the award, and give a short talk that got a standing ovation. It was all good and I know good will come of this tragic event.