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Undiagnosed MRSA Forced Arizona Prisoner to Have Heart Surgery

by Chad Marks

Walking 200 feet to the chow hall was excruciating, said 35-year-old Arizona prisoner Waylon Collingwood. Held at ASPC-Lewis, he had already been to the medical department several times in July 2019 to seek help for his symptoms, which also included vomiting and nausea, only to be wrongly diagnosed. A nurse thought Collingwood had pneumonia. She gave him a Z-pack – antibiotics commonly used for pink-eye and strep throat – and sent him back to his housing unit.

A month later Collingwood was at an outside hospital, finding out why walking to the chow hall had been so painful. He did not have pneumonia but rather Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA. The nurse, who worked for prison medical provider Corizon, had been wrong – leaving Collingwood with a heavy price to pay. He was also misdiagnosed by Corizon staff with Valley Fever and tuberculosis before going to the hospital.

MRSA had infected his lungs and the valves of his heart, and he needed open heart surgery to replace his tricuspid valve. His heart stopped beating the day after surgery, but a nurse at the Abrazo West Campus Hospital was able to save him. Collingwood learned that he would need to use a pacemaker the rest of his life.

While he survived, other prisoners were not as fortunate – four others died in Arizona prisons in 2018 due to MRSA, including Jesse A. Zermeno, Theresa I. White, Tony M. Ruiz and Clinton Lee Spencer. As of May 2019, twenty Arizona state prisoners were being treated for MRSA infections.

“We’ve had multiple cases of MRSA and antibiotic-resistance MRSA,” said Corene Kendrick, a staff attorney with the California-based Prison Law Office. The PLO represents prisoners in an ongoing class-action medical care suit, Parsons v. Ryan, that PLN has covered multiple times. [See, e.g.: PLN, Dec. 2019, p.61; Nov. 2018, p.1; May 2018, p.28].

In September 2019, the class members asked the federal district court to intervene by having a judge assume control over health care operations in all state-run prisons. The Arizona Department of Corrections (ADC) has already been fined $1.4 million for failing to comply with promises it made to improve medical care for prisoners. The plaintiffs’ attorneys are requesting another hefty fine in the $1.2 million range.

Further, on October 4, 2019, a court-appointed expert, Dr. Marc Stern, submitted a report that criticized Arizona’s reliance on a for-profit prison medical contractor. He suggested that the law requiring privatized health care for prisoners “be rescinded or overridden so that ADC can return to self-operating health care services.” According to Dr. Stern, the state is paying more to Corizon than it would if it provided in-house prison medical care.

“Privatization of correctional health care costs the state more than self-operation,” he wrote.

While lawyers battle things out in court, Collingwood has his own fight. He filed suit against Corizon, arguing the company’s nurses were negligent and deliberately indifferent because, while under their care, his infection “progressed to a level so severe that treatment required open heart surgery to replace infected heart valves.” His complaint, filed in Maricopa County Superior Court, was removed to federal court on November 1, 2019, where it remains pending. See: Collingwood v. Corizon Health, Inc., U.S.D.C. (D. Ariz.), Case No. 2:19-cv-05546. 


Sources:, azcapitol­,

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Related legal case

Collingwood v. Corizon Health, Inc.