Second heat-related death of 2010 reported in Shelby County

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC-TV) - The second heat-related death of 2010 has was reported Tuesday in Shelby County.

According to Dr. Karen E. Chancellor, Shelby County's Chief Medical Examiner, a 70-year-old African-American male was found dead in his North Memphis home Monday evening, after having been seen alive earlier in the day.

Friends identified the man as Sonny Murray, a "nice guy" who lived on and off with his brother.

Officials said the temperature in the apartment was 94.6 degrees Fahrenheit when Murray's body was discovered by his brother, William.

"I checked on him before I left in the morning, and when I got back, he was gone," William said.

"I feel bad about it," neighbor Crystal Hawkins said. "I really do.  Wish he had some air.  Maybe he'd still be alive."

There was no air conditioning in the home, and all windows were closed. A box fan was blowing in the bedroom where Murray was found.

Chancellor said 'environmental heat exposure' was a contributing factor in the man's death. But William Murray said his brother's medical history likely played a bigger role.

Still, Dr. Helen Murrow of the Memphis and Shelby County Health Department says the elderly are especially vulnerable when temperatures soar.

"Try to get them to a cooler place during the day and encourage them to have cross-ventilation in their home," she said.

The Memphis and Shelby County Health Department offers the following tips to help prevent heat-related illnesses:

  • Drink plenty of cool fluid, especially water; but avoid alcohol and caffeine.
  • Wear appropriate clothing and sunscreen.
  • Limit outdoor activities.
  • Pace yourself.
  • Stay cool indoors, especially in the heat of the day.
  • Never leave anyone in a car.
  • Monitor those at high risk.

Heat stroke is the most serious heat-related illness. It occurs when the body becomes unable to control its temperature: the body's temperature rises rapidly, the body loses its ability to sweat, and it is unable to cool down.  Body temperatures rise to 106 degrees Fahrenheit or higher within 10 to 15 minutes.  Heat stroke can cause death or permanent disability if emergency treatment is not provided.

Signs and Symptoms of Heat Stroke:

  • High body temperature (above 103 degrees)
  • Red, hot, dry skin (no sweating)
  • Rapid, strong pulse
  • Throbbing headache
  • Dizziness, nausea
  • Mental confusion, shallow breathing and possible unconsciousness

Heat Exhaustion:

Heat exhaustion is a milder form of heat-related illness that can develop after several days of exposure to high temperatures and inadequate or unbalanced replacement of fluids.

Signs and Symptoms of Heat Exhaustion:

  • Heavy sweating
  • Paleness
  • Muscle cramps
  • Tiredness
  • Weakness
  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Fainting
  • Skin may be cool and moist
  • Pulse rate fast and weak
  • Breathing fast and shallow

The Health Department also emphasizes that during periods of intense and prolonged heat, it is especially important to check on elderly relatives and neighbors.  The elderly are more likely to have health conditions or take medications that make them more vulnerable to the heat, and their bodies do not adjust well to sudden changed in temperature.  If you have elderly friends or relatives, you can help protect them from heat-related stress by:
Visiting at least twice a day to watch them for signs of heat exhaustion or heat stroke.
Take them to air-conditioned locations if they have transportation problems.
Encouraging them to drink plenty of cool, non-alcoholic beverages.

The Aging Commission of the Mid-South's Fan for Seniors Program uses volunteers to deliver fans to persons over the age of 65.  Individuals may receive a fan every other year if they live in Shelby County and do not have functioning air conditioning.  Those in need a fan or wanting to make a donation to the program may contact the Aging Commission of the Mid-South at (901) 324-6333.

For more information contact the Memphis and Shelby County Health Department's Epidemiology Section at (901) 544-7717 during normal business hours.  For more information about heat-related illnesses, including prevention and treatment tips, visit the CDC's Extreme Heat Safety Web site at

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