Nearly four months later, woman at HUP still unidentified

Two tattoos that may help identify the woman - "Bruce" is on her left arm, and "Dave" is on her right.
Two tattoos that may help identify the woman - "Bruce" is on her left arm, and "Dave" is on her right.
Posted: December 11, 2010

She has lain in a hospital bed for nearly four months, unconscious, unresponsive, and unidentified.

Police have sent around her fingerprints nationwide. Social workers at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania have spent days sifting through missing-person websites, inviting in social service workers who might recognize her, calling community and health agencies.

"Jane Doe" - white, 5-foot-5 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. 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. She has no scars, no indication of drug use or violence.

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.

"At first I refused to call her Jane" - as in Doe - "because I thought that was rude," said Jennifer Perno, one of the nurses on the regular medical unit who hooks up her feeding tube, talks to her, and turns her every two hours. "But you want to call her something besides 'Ma'am.' "

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 unconscious man in her unit by comparing a tattoo, car registrations, and an obituary. She located relatives, and he 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 close 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, and no longer requires hospital-level care, hospital workers said.

Penn has so far absorbed the cost - well over a quarter-million dollars so far and about $2,000 for each additional day - and will continue to pay for her stay in the hospital or another facility as long as necessary, said Marc Kaplan, a spokesman for the health system.

She could be transferred to a long-term care facility that is capable of dealing with the tube in her neck, which is mainly helping to humidify her throat.

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

Suzanne Pritchard, an outside lawyer who represents the hospital in the event that court approval is needed for medical treatment, had hoped to obtain a temporary Social Security number. That hope was dashed, she said in an e-mail, when the Social Security Administration told her that without any form of identification, "it is not possible to get a 'temporary' number under any circumstances."

Nicole Mendez-Martinez, the hospital social worker who has been trying to identify the patient since her arrival on the Founders 14 medical unit in September, said that representatives for companies that run about 40 nursing homes around the region said they could not consider a patient without insurance.

This case is unlike anything she has had before. "It is a challenge, but it's sad," Mendez-Martinez said. "Because she does belong to someone. She's someone's daughter or cousin or sister or friend."

In fact, the rescue workers who first arrived at the bench in a park adjacent to the Market-Frankford Line's Tioga station at 7:43 p.m. Aug. 13 said they had seen the woman walking around when they passed her on other calls earlier in the day, said Executive Chief Daniel Williams, a Fire Department spokesman.

Harrowgate Park is a square block of grass with a playground and 20 or so benches at the busy corner of Kensington Avenue and Tioga Street. It's a couple of miles from where police believe a man has been preying on women. Although deserted in winter's deep freeze, residents said it is often crowded in summer, and has a seedy reputation.

It is unclear why the woman went into cardiac arrest, which can be caused by medical conditions, drugs, and other factors. Nor is it clear how long before the 911 call was made that her heart had stopped, depriving her brain of oxygen.

But a normal heartbeat was not restored until 45 minutes after paramedics arrived, tried to resuscitate her, and took her to the ER at Aria Health-Frankford Campus. She was transferred a few hours later to the Penn hospital, which lowered her body temperature, a technique known as therapeutic hypothermia, in a last-ditch effort to minimize brain damage. After 36 days in cardiac intensive care, she was moved to a regular unit.

No one has come to visit. Even the tattoos haven't helped to identify her.

Two of them - "David" and "Dave" - appear homemade, which can often suggest that they were done in prison, said Joseph Forte, the hospital's director of security, who took photos to the park on Thursday morning to see if anyone recognized her. But an arrest would mean there were fingerprints taken, and none have been found in the nation's databases.

"It is hard to believe she doesn't have family out there who would want to know," said Baillie, "even though it is not good news."


Do You Know Her?

Anyone who 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.


Contact staff writer Don Sapatkin at 215-854-2617 or dsapatkin@phillynews.com.

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