Two new heat-related deaths, medical examiner reports - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Two new heat-related deaths, medical examiner reports

By Jamel Major - bio | email

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC-TV) - Two heat-related deaths were reported over the weekend, a spokesperson for the Shelby County Medical Examiner's office confirmed Tuesday.

The first victim, a 57-year-old man, was found dead in his home on July 23.  Investigators said there was no working air conditioning in his home, however, a fan was on.

Then, on Sunday, a 56-year-old man was found dead inside his car, which was parked under a carport at his home.  Witnesses told investigators the man had been working in his yard earlier in the day.

"Both people also had chronic diseases, which can contribute to heat related illness," said Dr. Helen Morrow of the Memphis and Shelby County Health Department.

The deaths struck close to home for Memphis resident Barbara Southwell, who knows all too well how dangerous the extreme heat can be. Recently, when Southwell and her husband went to check on her 90-year-old mom, they knew something wasn't right.

Southwell had no idea her mother was in serious trouble.  

"We ended up calling her doctor," she said. "I asked what else we could do, and he said make sure she has plenty of liquids and keep her cool."

But checking up on her is what saved Southwell's mother's life.

"She was in heat distress and it was only 80 degrees," Southwell said. "You think about it, people who don't have air or fans, and there's no circulation in the house...we're losing too many people that way."

The Aging Commission of the Mid-South's 'Fans for Seniors' program is using volunteers to deliver fans to people over the age of 65. If you need a fan you can call the Aging Commission at (901) 324-3399.


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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