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Tribal elder's widow faces financial hardship

EAGLE BUTTE, S.D. ? The widow of tribal elder Leonard Fiddler, whose death on New Year's Eve or early New Year's Day aroused nationwide indignation against the Indian Health Service, is suffering from financial hardship because a death certificate hasn't been issued.

Marie Fiddler's husband, 66-year-old Leonard M. Fiddler of Green Grass, S.D., a highly decorated Korean veteran and a descendent of Chief Big Foot, died waiting for medical care.

Fiddler was known to nearly everyone on the reservation as a generous man who often worked to preserve tribal culture and defend tribal treaties. He suffered from a number of medical conditions including heart and kidney problems as well as cancer. He had been taking medication for diabetes for the past seven years, but it was only within the last year he began to take daily insulin injections, Mrs. Fiddler said.

Family members believe he may have fallen into a diabetic coma on New Year's Eve, but they are still uncertain about the time of his death.

Meanwhile, his wife can't draw his veteran's pension or social security benefits without submitting a death certificate to the federal agencies.

Shirley Fiddler, the deceased tribal elder's stepdaughter, told a group of tribal officials documenting IHS problems that the absence of the income has been a severe hardship for her mother, who has no other income.

Recounting the events, Shirley Fiddler said her stepfather failed to respond to his wife when she checked on him shortly after he finished injecting his regular dose of insulin.

Mrs. Fiddler said in an earlier interview she noticed her husband hadn't changed positions after laying down on the bed so she attempted to wake him, but he didn't respond.

The elderly woman called police for assistance. An officer arrived and attempted to resuscitate Fiddler, but the attempts to revive him ended when an ambulance crew arrived.

Nearly two hours later, Mrs. Fiddler said, the ambulance workers placed Mr. Fiddler, wrapped in a sheet, in the ambulance and drove away toward the hospital, but a doctor at the IHS Hospital in Eagle Butte directed the ambulance not to take Fiddler to the hospital.

According police reports, the doctor ordered the ambulance crew to take him back to his residence or "throw him on the side of the road."

Shirley Fiddler of Green Grass said the family continues to be in debt after the Veterans Administration and IHS fought over the remaining balance of a bill for surgery.

The woman questioned the medical care her stepfather received. She asked if the transition from taking insulin orally to an insulin injection might have sent him into a coma.

In late December, he was taken to the IHS "My mother is taking it hard. No death certificate was signed. They won't give her a VA pension. The death certificate was floating around and no one wanted to sign it. She is having a hard time and she doesn't have any income. How is she going to pay her bills?"

The Office of the Inspector General sent a pathologist to conduct the examination and the preliminary results indicated Fiddler died of a heart attack.

Bourland said a report listing the time of death has been issued and he confirmed the death certificate hasn't been signed.

Physician Janet Reid and then Ambulance Director Tim Smith were removed from the facility, but Service Unit Director Clayton Bellegarde was returned to his post, said Bourland.