An autopsy confirmed yesterday that a Harford County Detention Center inmate died of asthma -- a condition that her fiance said had been worsening since the jail medical staff stopped giving her prescription medicines two weeks ago.
The inmate, 24-year-old Niecey D. Aldridge of Aberdeen, wrote to a Harford Circuit Court judge last week about her problems breathing in the jail. She was scheduled for a hearing this week on a request for release on medical grounds.
Michael Golden, a state health department spokesman, said an autopsy showed Ms. Aldridge died early Sunday of natural causes resulting from her asthma.
Ms. Aldridge's fiance, Leon Boddy, 30, said she suffered an asthma attack a week ago and still was having breathing problems late Friday.
Mr. Boddy said she had been taking prednisone, a steroid, and Theo-Dur, a bronchodilator, to keep the asthma in check. When the jail's medical staff learned about two weeks ago that Ms. Aldridge was pregnant, he said, they took her off the oral medications but allowed her to continue using a prescription inhaler.
"She needed all of it," said Mr. Boddy, who said he had been acquainted with Ms. Aldridge for 14 years. The couple had two children, a 5-year-old girl and an 11-month-old son, he said.
Ms. Aldridge's medical care in the Detention Center is under investigation by the Harford County Sheriff's Office, which operates the jail near Bel Air.
The jail warden, Paul S. Hastmann, said yesterday that the office's Criminal Investigation Division had made copies of Ms. Aldridge's medical file from the jail. "They are looking at the entire case," he said.
Medical care at the jail is provided under contract by Dr. Kermit P. Bonovich. Contacted through his answering service yesterday, Dr. Bonovich said he "does not know anything" about Ms. Aldridge's case.
"This doctor is someone we've had at the jail for a long, long time," Mr. Hastmann said. "We have few complaints from inmates about medical care. I have nothing to presuppose that he did not follow all procedures."
Mr. Boddy said Ms. Aldridge had been complaining to him for about a week that her asthma attacks, exacerbated by the heat, were getting worse. He said he last spoke to Ms. Aldridge about 7 p.m. Friday. He said she told him that she had told a nurse of her breathing difficulties about five hours earlier, and that she had been lying on the floor of the women's dorm to get air from fans nearby.
"It was a muggy night [Saturday]. I'm sure it was toasty," said Deputy 1st Class DeWayne Curry, a spokesman for Sheriff Robert E. Comes.
Deputy Curry said a jail nurse had called Dr. Bonovich Friday afternoon and left a message for him. The spokesman said it was unclear yesterday whether Dr. Bonovich returned that call, and whether other nurses at the jail continued trying to reach him after the nurse who first called him left the jail at the end of a shift.
The spokesman did not identify the nurse who made the first call.
Ms. Aldridge already had complained about conditions at the jail, and she was scheduled to appear before Harford County Circuit Judge Maurice W. Baldwin this Friday to seek a medical release.
Referring to her prednisone, Ms. Aldridge said in her letter last week to the judge: "With the condition of the Harford County Detention Center, I have to rely on this drug to breath [sic]. That's why it is important that I be relieved of these conditions as soon as possible."
In the letter, Ms. Aldridge also said she had learned of her pregnancy while she was in jail and was concerned about the effects of her medication on her unborn child. She was serving a 90-day sentence that began July 6 for probation violations stemming from earlier convictions on theft and traffic charges.
Dr. Hong Kim of Aberdeen said yesterday that he had treated Ms. Aldridge for asthma since September. He said she had a serious attack several months ago and was hospitalized for several days, but she didn't arrange a follow-up appointment to have her medication adjusted.
Prednisone dosages are adjusted regularly, depending on the severity of a patient's breathing problems, he said. Dr. Kim said the normal procedure for someone who is pregnant is to put the patient on a "minimal" dose of prednisone.