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One man's compassion saves kin more grief

Boston Herald (MA)
August 30, 2005
Author: Peter Gelzinis
Estimated printed pages: 3

That Jerry Breen died alone, just outside the embrace of his large and loving family, is a tragedy.

That his corpse lay virtually abandoned in the morgue at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center for more than two months, where it slowly began to decompose . . . THAT is a disgrace.

In Roslindale and Hyde Park, Jerry Breen's three brothers, his sister, Mary, and his 85-year-old mother, Lillian, would STILLbe searching for him - if not for the compassion and coincidental heroics of a funeral director named Michael Flynn.

On July 12, Flynn was inside the morgue "cooler" at Beth Israel, retrieving a body for the F. J. Higgins Funeral Home. He interrupted his routine to check out "a very unusual sight" on the far right side of the morgue. A body pouched in a body bag was leaking fluid onto the sheets of a gurney.

"I'd never come across anything like it in a hospital morgue before," Flynn recalled. "Usually, the turnover is very high. A body doesn't stay in those places long. But it was clear this body had been there far too long.

"Those coolers don't prevent decomposition; they just slow it down," Flynn explained. "And this poor soul was in advanced state of decay. A body shouldn't be left like that. That's not showing proper respect for the deceased."

Flynn pointed out the ghastly scene to a security guard and he also called it to the attention of Beth Israel administrators. But Flynn didn't stop there. He checked the tag, with the name "BREEN." And he opened the body bag to study the man's face.

By the time this was taking place, John Breen, a Municipal police officer, had started to wonder if he'd ever learn what happened to his oldest brother.

"Jerry was a decorated Vietnam veteran who put in 20 years with the post office," Breen said. "But my brother never recovered from what he saw over there. He was diagnosed with PTSD. His self-medication was alcohol. He never could shake the bottle."

At the age of 13, Jerry Breen delighted his parents by telling them he wanted to be a priest. He attended Graymoor Franciscans Friars of Atonement. After six years, he told his father, "Dad, I don't think this is for me." At 19, he went from a seminary school in upstate New York to an Army rifle platoon in Vietnam.

"Maybe it was the shock of going from one extreme to the other, I don't know," his brother said. "Jerry was a bright and caring guy, who loved all of us, but couldn't make it past the demons."

Jerry had no identification on the evening of May 14, when EMTs found him on the sidewalk, technically dead, less than two blocks from his River Street apartment.

"After the EMTs got him breathing, they rushed him to the Deaconess," Breen said. "Evidently, he came to long enough to give the ER people his name and birthday. But instead of `Jerry,' they put his name down as `Terry.' His birthday was correct, but the year was wrong. A little later, he was dead."

For the next eight weeks, as Jerry Breen's family blanketed Hyde Park and Roslindale with pictures of their missing brother and filed the requisite reports with the Boston police, "Terry" Breen was lost in the Beth Israel morgue.

"What my family can't understand," John Breen said, "is why someone at the hospital didn't check with the police? Why they couldn't take a picture, or a fingerprint? They assumed Jerry was just some homeless guy, with nobody who cared. So, they didn't make much of an effort to find out who he was."

On Tuesday, Aug. 16, one day after Lillian Breen beseeched God to "Please, give me a sign," Michael Flynn called John Breen. "I think I found your brother."

By chance, Flynn had looked up from his meal at the Happy Hour Restaurant in Roslindale to see taped to the wall a picture of the man he'd come across in Beth Israel's morgue.

But the story doesn't end here. Shortly after Michael Flynn made mention of the deplorable condition of Jerry Breen's body to people at Beth Israel, a tiny classified ad appeared on July 27, stuck at the end of the death notices in the Globe. It sought information from anyone who knew a "Terry Breen," born 10/14/43.

The next day, Beth Israel turned the body over to Commonwealth Funeral Services, with instructions that Mr. Breen be cremated. The hospital's letter said, "An exhaustive search to locate family members has been unsuccessful."

"What kind of exhaustive search, that's what I'd like to know," John Breen said. "We've got Jerry's ashes, but we don't have any explanations."

Yesterday, a congenial spokesman at Beth Israel said federal privacy laws prevented him from explaining anything about this case. I'm sure the lawyers will have better luck.

Copyright 2005 Boston Herald
Record Number: 10C535E777B73AB8
 

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An exhaustive search to locate family members has been unsuccessful.
Sounds like their PR people are covering their a**es on this one. Rather than hide behind attorney's, it would seem more honorable to come clean and take it on the chin. They may not have caused his death, but from what it appears certainly did not respect it.
 
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