Family seeks answers for young mother's deadly illness
By Gordon Boyd
Eyewitness News Reporter
CHATTANOOGA (WRCB) -- Friends know Jennifer Elizabeth Victoria 'Tori" Brown as a terrific cook. A lover of learning, recently beginning studies at Chattanooga State to become a radiology technician.
A devoted mother to 2-year-old, Kylie Shae Brown-Bunch.
But to Todd Brown, she is and always will be, 'Tori-Bug.' Daddy's girl.
"He's got a hole in him this big," family friend Pat Burke says. "A big part of him is missing."
Tori, 19, died at Vanderbilt University Medical Center last Thursday, after a LifeForce helicopter had flown her in from Erlanger-Chattanooga.
All from, what family members say, began as leg pains a day earlier. Soon she was sweating uncontrollably, as her temperature was dropping.
"Her body became septic and started attacking her organs," Burke says. "It got into her heart."
Tuesday, Tori had posted on Facebook that she was 'sick of coughing, but at least I feel a little better', grateful that her parents were able to nurse Kylie Shae through her flu-like symptoms.
So how could her condition have gotten so much worse, so quickly?
"If you're having to breathe hard, if you're not resting well, I think you'll get a sense that you're having more problems," says Nettie Gerstle, manager of the Communicable Disease Program at the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Health Department.
By law, the Health Department requires medical professionals to report, and epidemiologists to investigate, when doctors suspect any number of conditions, ranging from influenza, to staph infections, to meningitis.
By that standard, Tori Brown's death would have been reported. But privacy laws and medical protocols prohibit discussion of individual cases.
Gerstle tells Eyewitness News that many potentially deadly afflictions may not appear so serious at first.
So how do you guard against over-reaction, or waiting-too-late to seek emergency care?
"We can feel really bad and wake up and tell somebody, what I want to do is go back to bed," Gerstle says. "But if people are having trouble responding, that's another sign that they are seriously ill."
"They (doctors) asked the family where she'd been, what kind of contacts she'd had," Burke says.
But if those leads go nowhere, Tori Brown's family have has to resign itself to waiting for an autopsy report from the Davidson County Medical Examiner. That report could take three to four months.