Nine-year-old Jeremiah Clark survived for years not being able to walk, talk, go to the bathroom by himself or eat without a feeding tube.
But ultimately he could not survive living at Alden Village North.
The school had Alden Village North pick him up, but teachers were outraged when he returned to class the next morning looking worse than before — pale, lethargic and moaning. Teachers placed him on a mat, where he shook in the fetal position.
A school nurse said she demanded that Alden Village North come for him immediately, but the facility balked, telling her to give him Tylenol. Three hours passed before Alden picked up Jeremiah, even though the facility is a five-minute walk away. Back at Alden, records show, staff did not assess his illness, monitor him during the night or even call a doctor until the next morning.
Jeremiah soon died in a hospital of shock, infection and a bowel obstruction. Before Jeremiah's death, a physician told his mother that surgery — though physically punishing and an extreme long shot — could be attempted.
"No," his mother responded. "He's been through enough."
Jeremiah is among 13 children and young adults at the North Side facility whose deaths have led to state citations since 2000, a Tribune investigation has found. Some of these deaths, records show, might have been prevented had officials at the facility taken basic steps, such as closely monitoring residents and their medical equipment.
Despite the mounting deaths, the facility has not improved its care over the years, records show. The state has found more serious violations there in the past three years than at the other nine Illinois homes for children with disabilities combined.
Shannon Moffitt, one of Jeremiah's teachers at Gale Elementary, said her school would need a full-time staffer just to deal with all of the day-to-day issues involving the students living at Alden, from poor hygiene to lack of proper clothing.
"I hold my breath every time I send my kids back home there," she said.
Alden Village North, formerly known as Mosaic Living Center and the Pediatric Rehabilitation Institute, has had three owners in 10 years. According to the state, the operator since 2008 has been Floyd A. Schlossberg, president of Alden Management Services. His firm runs more than 20 nursing facilities in Illinois, primarily providing care for the elderly.
Schlossberg did not respond to requests for an interview or to questions about Jeremiah's care and his mother's suit against the facility. In a brief statement, his company said it could not comment on matters involving pending litigation.
To piece together Jeremiah's final days, the Tribune interviewed key witnesses and reviewed state documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, including inspection reports on Alden, statements by facility employees and notes by Illinois Department of Public Health investigators.
A former nurse at Jeremiah's school, Felicia Wenz, told the newspaper that his death was one of the most egregious cases of child neglect she has seen. "That had to be the most painful death imaginable," she said.
Moffitt said Jeremiah did not have to die.
"It's just sick," she said. "It's disgusting. It still haunts me."
Kathern Clark never wanted to put her son in a nursing facility.
For years she had cared for Jeremiah in her suburban Harvey apartment, carrying him from room to room, changing his diapers and feeding him four times a day through his gastrostomy tube, or G-tube, which allowed food to be pumped directly into his stomach.
The final hours of Jeremiah Clark
For two days, a boy with profound disabilities grew mortally ill, yet no one at his care facility called a doctor. Not his case manager. Not a day nurse, and not his night nurse. As the third day dawned, another nurse finally called for help. But it was too late. Jeremiah became the most recent fatality in a pattern of harmful care at Alden Village North.
Kathern Clark holds her 9-year-old son, Jeremiah, on the day he died, at Children's Memorial Hospital in Chicago on May 21, 2009. (Family photo)