GREENSBORO, N.C. — Sharon Combs would walk around her home throughout the day and barely glance at the pictures on the wall. Like many families, Combs has pictures of her daughter, husband, and others in several parts of the house.
These days, those trips walking past the pictures on the walls, are a bit longer. Combs will often take time to stop and remember.
“I miss her every day,” Sharon said.
In September of 2020, Combs's daughter Laura died unexpectedly. The 31-year-old initially suffered a seizure in her apartment.
“About 9 p.m. at night, her fiancé called and said she suffered a seizure,” Sharon said.
Emergency crews were immediately called to the apartment. Sharon Combs raced to the apartment as well. She arrived as paramedics worked to try and save her daughter. Laura was rushed to the emergency room in critical condition.
“The doctor came out and said, 'We finally got a heartbeat electronically with medication, but she is not waking up,'” Sharon said. “I thought to myself, 'Well, at least she’s alive.'”
Sharon paced the hospital halls for what must have felt like hours, waiting and wondering if her daughter going to be OK. That long wait was actually only 30 minutes from the time a doctor last provided an update.
The same doctor would come back to the waiting room, but this time, the news was horrible - Laura had passed away. The doctor told Sharon her daughter's heart simply stopped.
“The doctor said, 'He did not understand how a 31-year-old woman could have a seizure and die,' I just kept asking, 'What do we do now, what do we do,'” Sharon said.
At that moment, Sharon said she felt numb, unsure about what had just happened. She spoke with her daughter earlier that day, and the last words she heard from her were, ‘I love you, mom.' The call came about 12 hours later.
“I was in shock. My world was destroyed,” Sharon said.
The doctor wanted an autopsy to help determine how this happened. Sharon simply wanted answers and was glad the doctor suggested an autopsy. Sharon was told it could take a few months, but she was willing to wait if it would provide a reason as to how this happened.
Sharon waited, but after a few months, there was no news from the medical examiner’s office. Sharon said she called repeatedly and was eventually told the case was pending.
“I called every month for the next several months and all I heard was, 'It’s pending,'” Sharon said. “Our lives can’t move forward until we have answers.”
Several months would pass and there was still no news from the medical examiner’s office. By now, it had been almost a year, and Sharon still had no idea what happened to her daughter, and no answers from the medical examiner’s office as to when the report would be completed.
“Not knowing is the hardest thing,” Sharon said. “I was angry and frustrated.”
It was around this time that Sharon reached out to WFMY News 2 for some answers. She didn’t understand why the report was taking so long. It had been 12 months since her daughter died.
“I didn’t know what to do,” Sharon said.
We contacted the medical examiner’s office and spoke with a representative from the state. We sent several emails asking for answers and reasons why the autopsy was taking this long.
A representative from the state called us back later that week and provided some answers. The state acknowledged there had been some longer than typical delays for an autopsy result because of a number of factors. One of the main reasons was the overwhelming number of deaths and requests for an autopsy because of COVID-19.
In the 12 months since Laura died in September of 2020, there were more than 16,000 medical examiner cases reported. In 2020, there were more than 13,500 deaths that fell under the medical examiner’s jurisdiction.
The state and the medical examiner are also dealing with a staff shortage which also creates longer than expected delays. The office of the chief medical examiner has seven forensic pathologists and five technicians handling cases.
“I just don’t see why it’s taken a year to keep getting the word 'pending,'” Sharon said.
A little more than a month after we started asking questions about the case and why it was taking so long, the autopsy was completed. The report showed Laura Combs suffered a brain bleed and eventually died from cardiac arrest.
The four-page report provided a few other details, but in the end, her heart simply stopped. Sharon is thankful she at least has some answers and a small bit of closure but there are still questions she will never know.
Sharon told WFMY News 2 that the past several months have been difficult but she and her husband Chris, have been doing OK, all things considered. There are good days and bad, happy times and sad. Sharon does spend a little more time getting around the house these days, often slowing or stopping when she walks by a picture of her daughter.
“I love her so much,” Sharon said.