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Medical examiner: Cardiac issues lead cause of death in county; 2 died from overdoses, 3 of car crashes

Cardiac issues were the leading cause of the 258 Mower County deaths reported to the Southern Minnesota Regional Medical Examiner’s Office in 2016.

Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Ross Reichard and Monica Kendall, supervisor of death investigations for the office, updated the Mower County Board of Commissioners on 2016 data earlier this week.

The county a year ago switched from the coroner-appointment system to use the medical examiner’s office that serves eight counties in southeastern Minnesota.

Medical examiners, unlike most coroners, are licensed pathologists and have specialized training in death scene investigations.

Of the 258 Mower County deaths reported to the office, 186 were investigated. The office investigates when there is some question about how a person died, both naturally or unnaturally. Thirty-four cases required a post-mortem examination or autopsy. Reichard said every case has its own set of unique circumstances.

The vast majority of Mower County deaths — 229 — were from natural causes. Of those, 71 died from a heart issue. Cancer was the second leading cause with 60 and neurologic (dementia) was third, at 34.

Death by unnatural causes was led by falls, at 19, mostly suffered by elderly patients. Falls can cause injuries, Reichard said, such as “broken hips, a bleed, that lead to their demise.”

Motor vehicle crashes took three lives in 2016, and drug overdoses took two. Both drug overdoses came from a mix of heroin and methamphetamine, said Reichard, which mirrors a growing opioid-use epidemic across the nation.

“One of those was mixed with fentanyl” as well, he said.

The data also showed the majority of all deaths, 205, came from the over-65 age group.

And that is as it should be, he said.

“What you see here,” he said, referring to the over-65 statistic, “is the natural course of things.”

County Attorney Kristin Nelsen praised the work done by the office, which has proved “very helpful” in legal cases.

In addition to Mower County, the office provides services to Dodge, Fillmore, Goodhue, Houston, Olmsted, Winona and Wabasha counties. It’s main office is located at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, but there are four death investigators who work in Mower County.