In August 2004, a Florida woman named Gayle Laverne Grinds died at 40, after surgeons had failed at a six-hour attempt to separate her skin from a couch. This happened because she had spent a long 6 years sitting on that same couch! Her home was a filthy mess, according to workers, because Grinds had become too large ― weighing nearly 480 pounds ― to even get up and use the bathroom. Rescue workers were called in by her brother and his girlfriend, who informed them that Grinds was having “emphysema problems” and breathing trouble.
Everyone going inside the home had to wear protective gear. The stench was so powerful they had to blast in fresh air. After hours of several failed attempts, including building one plywood plank that was too small to hold her, workers finally removed sliding glass patio doors at the back of the home, leaving a 6-foot opening large enough to get her out.
They slid the couch with her on it onto the larger wooden plank supported by thick boards, which were slid onto a utility trailer. But they couldn’t get her in the ambulance. The trailer was hooked to the back of a pickup van, leaving the scene sometime after 2:00 AM, witnesses said. Grinds died at 3:12 AM, still attached to the couch at the Martin Memorial Hospital South in Florida. Her preliminary autopsy listed her death as due to “morbid obesity” but officials were still investigating based on the circumstances in her house.
Herman Thomas, a 54-year-old man who lived with Grinds in the duplex apartment in Golden Gate, south of Stuart, Florida told investigators that he did his best to take care of 4ft 10inch Grinds. He had tried effortlessly to get her out of the chair in vain. He further claimed that Grinds was his wife, however, no record of their marriage could be found. Though no charges were filed on him or anyone, officials were looking into issues of negligence. Inside the home, trash was scattered all over the floor and the walls were matted with feces. Pictures had been knocked off walls, furniture was toppled and bare concrete could be seen here and there.
Workers who entered the house had to wear protective gear and blast in fresh air into the house to reduce the horrendous odour emitting from the home while trying to figure out how to get the woman to the hospital. Removing Grinds from the couch turned into a painful and horrible ordeal since her body had become one with the chair’s fabric after years of staying put on it. They, therefore, opted to surgically remove her from the chair. But unfortunately, Grinds ended up dying in the process.
Skin is not a solid substance. It is made up of cells and layers. If you press the skin down with enough weight, the fibres of fabric can become entwined in the skin. This doesn’t happen with every fibre or every boundary of skin cells, but it can happen enough that it appears that the two are intertwined. This is especially true if the weight (pressure) on the skin exists over an extended period of time, and since ‘morbidly obese people’ are often in the same position for a long time, it could occur as it happened to Grinds. This is much less likely to happen with a smooth fabric, but since all fabric is made up of fibres, it can happen anyway.
Jerry Thomas, who lived across the street for six years, said he had seen young girls at the home on occasion but never knew Grinds was inside. “All we knew was the old man lived there,” Jerry said. “I had no idea a woman ever lived in that house. Apparently, she’d been on that couch a long time.” Unidentified relatives who were at the scene were upset by the situation.
Sheriff’s investigators questioned how Grinds lived in such conditions without more help from family or authorities. The Department of Children and Families (DCF) can intervene to help adults who are unable to care for themselves, but DCF officials said they did not know about Grinds, no one had informed them about it before she died.