Wynette autopsy finds heart failure cause of death
Medications not confirmed, ruled out as link
May 20, 1999
NASHVILLE, Tennessee (CNN) -- Almost five weeks after the body of country legend Tammy Wynette was exhumed at the insistence of her daughters, medical examiners say the results of an autopsy show that Wynette died of heart failure.
"There were no blood clots in her lungs in the autopsy, or under microscopic examination," says Davidson County medical examiner Dr. Bruce Levy. "But there was significant evidence of previous blood clots -- which compromised her lungs and put pressure on her heart."
Wynette, 55, died in April 1998 of what her personal physician, Dr. Wallis Marsh, diagnosed as a blood clot in her lungs. Such clots, along with intestinal ailments, were among several health problems suffered by the "First Lady of Country Music" in her last years.
Levy says two drugs were found in Wynette's blood, both of them medications Wynette was known to be taking at the time of her death. But he added that there was no evidence of a third drug, Dilaudid, a painkiller known to dissipate in embalming fluid.
Had he performed the autopsy earlier, Levy says, he might have been able to get a better indication of drug levels in her blood. As it is, he told reporters at a Thursday news conference, it's "virtually impossible to determine the exact drug levels at the time of Wynette's death or to what extent, if any, these drugs contributed to her heart failure and death."
Subject of wrongful death suit
Wynette's cause of death has been the subject of a $50 million wrongful death suit filed by three of her four daughters, alleging curious circumstances around Wynette's death, including a delay in calling the police and overprescription of drugs.
Her then-husband, George Richey, found her body, and Marsh flew down from Pittsburgh to sign the death certificate. He listed a "pulmonary embolism," or clot in the lung, as the cause of death.
Levy originally resisted the request for an autopsy, saying in February that it was evident Wynette died of natural causes. But he announced in early April that he was reconsidering the request. Her body was finally exhumed April 14 at the request of Richey, who said he wanted to "clarify for everyone how Tammy died so we can all move on."
The lawsuit alleged that Richey ignored advice to take Wynette to a hospital when she became ill, and contributed to her addiction.
While the daughters agreed earlier this month to drop Richey from the suit, it's still filed against Marsh, whom the Wynette daughters accuse of malpractice in treating their mother with large amounts of narcotics.
Marsh's lawyers say the suit has "no basis in fact," and have said in a past statement that her personal physician "provided extraordinary medical care to a person who suffered extraordinary medical problems."
Wynette's husband dropped from lawsuit
In Remembrance of Tammy Wynette - North Country Notes
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