A Wisconsin nurse is accused of amputating a patient’s foot without permission and wanting to display it in her family's taxidermy shop, according to court documents.
Mary K. Brown, 38, removed the frostbitten right foot of a 62-year-old patient at Spring Valley Health and Rehabilitation Center in Pierce County on May 27, according to a criminal complaint. She was charged last week with elder abuse.
Investigators were contacted in June about a death at the assisted living facility by the county medical examiner, who said the body was sent for an autopsy because of “the unusual circumstances of his death.”
The medical examiner said he noticed the victim’s foot was not attached to his body “but was rather lying beside him,” the filing said.
Pete Koch, a Pierce County sheriff’s investigator, interviewed staff members at the rehabilitation center and found that the victim, who was not publicly identified, had been placed there in March.
He was taken to the center because he had fallen in his residence when the heat went out, which caused him to have “severe frostbite” on both of his feet. His feet became necrotic, meaning his tissue had died, according to the complaint.
The medical examiner reviewed the victim’s medical chart, which indicated a nurse had amputated his right foot on May 27.
The complaint revealed Brown cut off the foot in what she said was an act of compassion because of the dire state of his feet.
According to the accounts of nurses Koch interviewed in the criminal complaint, the foot was no longer fully attached to the patient's leg, it smelled and it was “black like a mummy.”
Furthermore, in the weeks before the amputation, hospice nurses had visited him frequently believing he would die soon.
Tracy Reitz, the center’s director of nursing, said that a few days before the amputation, the victim’s right foot “was dead, foul smelling, and was held on by a tendon." She said "she was able to take his foot and put it back in," the complaint said.
The patient's foot was cut off by Brown as she and two other nurses, identified as Nurse 3 and Nurse 4, were in the victim's room.
She used scissors to cut a tendon, which amputated his right foot altogether, the complaint stated. The foot was then placed in a bag in a freezer, to be sent with him when he passed away.
Brown told Koch that she had not received a doctor's order to cut off the foot and she should have.
She said that the victim didn't show any signs of pain and she covered up his stump with gauze.
However, Nurse 4 said she was holding the victim’s hand and his grip was “extremely tight and he was moaning a little bit” when the tendon was cut.
And another staffer, identified as Nurse 1, said she spoke with the victim two days after the amputation. According to the complaint, he told her "that when they cut his foot off he felt everything and it hurt very bad."
Brown said that she “was trying to make the quality of life better for him." She explained that the patient always complained about the smell and she thought he “would like it better.” She said there was no blood in the procedure.
Nurse 3 told Koch that during the amputation, Brown talked about taking the victim’s foot home and “epoxying it," which the nurse found to be strange.
Another nurse, identified as Nurse 5, who was not in the room for the amputation, recalled that Brown said her family has a taxidermy shop. Brown told the nurse “she was going to preserve the foot and put it on display with a sign that said ‘Wear your boots kids.’”
Kevin Larson, administrator and CEO of the facility, told Koch that Brown did not do a report on the incident. Larson said nobody wrote anything in the victim’s chart on May 27 except for a notification about medications.
Larson said Brown had not asked him if she could remove the foot and there was no doctor’s order to do so. He said the best practice should have been to get an order from a doctor, which he believes they would have given.
He said he did not believe Brown had any malicious motive.
Spring Valley Health and Rehab Center did not immediately respond to an NBC News request for comment.
Brown was charged on Nov. 3 with physical abuse of an elder person intentionally causing great bodily harm and mayhem, with increased penalties as the victim is an elderly person, according to Pierce County Circuit Court records.
It's not immediately clear if she has retained a lawyer. Brown could not be reached for comment Tuesday afternoon.