Bruce Davis (left), and his stepfather, John Meledy, (middle) were found dead Tuesday in their Lehigh Acres home. Davis' daughter, Alicia Mendicino, (right) said Meledy was completely reliant on Davis. / Special to The News-Press
No one knows exactly what happened to Alzheimer’s patient John Meledy after his caretaker died and left him alone in the house.
The 88-year-old man relied on his 61-year-old stepson, Bruce Davis, to help him get up in the morning, go to the bathroom and remember to eat. At some point during the past week, Davis died while lying on the couch of the Lehigh Acres residence the two men shared. By the time anyone realized, Meledy was dead as well.
The two bodies were discovered Tuesday morning by a Lee County animal control officer who showed up at the Park Lane Circle residence to investigate a dog bite, according to a Lee County Sheriff’s Office report. The officer smelled a foul odor and called the sheriff’s office, and deputies then found Davis on the couch and Meledy on the floor a few feet away. Davis, who deputies suspect had been dead for several days based on his rate of decomposition, likely died first, according to the sheriff’s office.
The cause of death for both victims has not been released, but the sheriff’s office said both died of natural causes.
Damaris Jones, Meledy’s stepdaughter, said her stepfather relied on Davis for everything.
“I’m sure the fact that my brother passed first had a great deal to do with my father’s passing, because he had no one to take care of him,” said Jones, 66, of Winter Haven. “He was very frail at this point, and weak.”
Davis, on the other hand, had no medical issues his family knew of, according to his daughter, Alicia Mendicino, 38, of Berwyn, Pa.
“But my father, he was not one to go to the doctor,” she said. “He was a lifelong smoker; he was not one for diet or exercise.”
Mendicino usually talked to her father via Skype, an Internet videoconferencing system, every Sunday so he could see his granddaughters. Last Sunday, though, he and Meledy didn’t answer. She just figured they were busy.
Davis and Meledy didn’t have any other family in the Lehigh Acres area, Jones said.
A nursing aid came on Tuesdays to help Meledy with things like showering, but Meledy never left the house and didn’t have many friends who came to visit.
Richard Ten Brink, who lives next door to the house where the two were found, said it seemed eerily quiet for about a week. He hadn’t seen Davis take the dog for its nightly walk, and Davis didn’t bring his garbage out to the street for the Thursday pickup. Ten Brink called and emailed Davis, but he didn’t receive a response and he didn’t want to peer through the windows and disturb the family he described as very private.
When he saw the animal control officer (who was there because Meledy’s Chihuahua nipped at his nursing aid), Ten Brink went out to tell her his concerns.
“I started smelling the odor or something back there, and I thought it was just a dead animal over in the weeds or something,” Ten Brink said.
He poked around in the weeds for the culprit, but then noticed flies clustered around the windows on the side of the house.
“All the lights and everything were still on,” Ten Brink said. “Actually, they’re still on.”
That’s when he urged the animal control officer to call law enforcement.
Meledy’s family thinks Meledy may not have realized his stepson was dead. Meledy, who had no sense of time, could have thought Davis was sleeping. Even if he had realized something was wrong, he might not have known to call 911, Mendicino said.
Dr. Frederick Schaerf, of the Neuropsychiatric Research Center of Southwest Florida, said once Alzheimer’s breaks down the brain, patients often lose the ability to know when they’re hungry or thirsty. Without Davis there, Meledy may have suffered from dehydration and a lack of nutrition.
“I can tell you an end-stage Alzheimer’s patient is medically fragile, and you can succumb in a few days from dehydration or not eating,” Schaerf said.
If that didn’t kill him, it may have weakened him and caused him to fall, hit his head and suffer a brain bleed, which could have taken anywhere from a few minutes to longer than a day to kill him, Schaerf said.
Mendicino said it seems her father passed peacefully on the couch, and she hopes her grandfather, whom she called Poppy, didn’t suffer either.
“I hope that he kind of drifted away, too,” she said.
The worst part is no family was there for them when they passed, Jones said, fighting tears.
“I just feel so bad that they were there for so long and nobody noticed,” she said.
Jones said she will always remember one day in November when she and her sisters began singing songs from musicals. Meledy had been involved in different theater groups and he and his wife regularly went to dinner theater shows in Fort Myers. That day in November, Meledy started singing along to songs from “Oklahoma” and “The Music Man.”
The family was amazed at what Alzheimer’s had left intact .
“And all of a sudden he knew every word,” Jones said. “Even though he couldn’t remember what he had for breakfast.”