Bloody vomit, medical neglect and more in Matt Malloy prison lawsuit filed by DU students

Complaints of substandard health care in the Colorado prison system are nothing new, but a newly filed lawsuit by one inmate, alleging that he was neglected in his cell while vomiting blood for three days, makes for particularly interesting reading.

For one thing, Matt Mallory's federal suit was filed by University of Denver law students led by supervising attorneys Brittany Glidden and Laura Rovner -- the same team that's taking on the state system over treatment of mentally ill inmate Troy Anderson .

Rovner, Glidden and company are also challenging federal prisoner Thomas Silverstein's 26-plus years of solitary confinement.

Mallory's complaint also presents a detailed account of the deadly mix of over-prescribing, misdiagnosing and profound indifference that constitutes medical care in the Colorado Department of Corrections -- and in his version, contributed to a gastrointestinal bleed that was then simply ignored

His attorneys say DOC personnel provided Mallory with "copious amounts" of Ibuprofen and other anti-inflammatory drugs after a back injury two years ago -- despite a 2005 medical audit that indicated the system was over-prescribing such drugs, with little attention to their side effects, including ulcers and GI damage. When Mallory began vomiting blood in his cell last fall, he claims he was told to "put a wet washcloth on his head" until medical staff could get around to seeing him.

But no doctor ever came. After two days of vomiting, Mallory claims he was "examined" by a nurse "through the small opening in the steel pod door." The nurse told him he could have the swine flu and suggested a liquid diet. (Bloody vomit, Mallory's complaint notes, is not a flu symptom.)

The following day, the complaint continues, Mallory was too weak to go to the cell door to get his food. An officer told him, "This place isn't like Burger King where you can have it your way." Mallory collapsed trying to reach his food -- and ultimately ended up being taken to one hospital, then another, where he was found to have "a massive upper gastrointestinal bleed secondary to duodenal ulcer, profound anemia, and hypovolemic seizures."

After emergency surgery, Mallory was returned to prison -- where, he claims, he didn't receive the follow-up care he needed. He's now on parole from a six-year nonviolent sentence out of Adams County.

For more on prison medical care, see my feature "Death on the Installment Plan."

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Alan Prendergast has been writing for Westword for over thirty years. He teaches journalism at Colorado College; his stories about the justice system, historic crimes, high-security prisons and death by misadventure have won numerous awards and appeared in a wide range of magazines and anthologies.
Contact: Alan Prendergast