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'Horrified': Death Of Woman Who Was Left In A Chair For A Year Sparks Outrage Across Disability Sector

Disability advocates have reacted with sadness and anger to the death of Ann Marie Smith, who lived with cerebral palsy and died after being left in a cane chair for 24 hours a day, for an entire year.

Smith, 54, died at the Royal Adelaide Hospital last month, after a carer called an ambulance to her Kensington Park home in Adelaide's east.

She suffered septic shock and multi-organ failure, after undergoing major surgery to remove rotting flesh from pressure sores on her body.

Ms Smith lived with cerebral palsy, and couldn't walk or use a wheelchair. Image: SA Police

"She was living her days and sleeping at night in the same woven cane chair in a lounge room, for over a year with extremely poor personal hygiene," Detective Superintendent Bray said on Friday.

"That chair had also become her toilet, there was no fridge in the house and investigators were unable to locate any nutritional food in the house."

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'Disgusting And Degrading': Death Of Adelaide Woman Declared A Major Crime

A manslaughter investigation is underway following the death of an Adelaide woman who lived with cerebral palsy, and died under horrific circumstances last month.

Former Disability Discrimination Commissioner Graeme Innes said the circumstances around Smith's death are appalling.

"A death such as this, to occur in the circumstances that it did, is really devastating, no Australian should have to end their life in this way," Innes told 10 daily.

Innes says it's too early to draw conclusions around any potential systemic failures, but the manslaughter investigation into the case will be critical in establishing how things could be improved across the care sector.

"No doubt once the police investigation has been complete, this will be a circumstance that the Royal Commission focuses on."

Former Disability Discrimination Commissioner Graeme Innes says the Disability Royal Commission will undoubtedly examine Ms Smith's death, once a police investigation concludes. Image: Getty

For El Gibbs, Media Director at People With Disability Australia, the news of Smith's death and neglect left her shocked and searching for answers.

"I'm incredibly angry and sad to hear about the death of Ann Marie Smith, it's just outrageous that she was let down by every single system and person in her life," Gibbs told 10 News First.

"We know that people with disability experience violence, abuse and neglect at epidemic levels, and that's the whole reason why we campaigned so hard for a Disability Royal Commission.

"What we need is for the NDIS quality and safeguards commission, who are meant to be the watchdogs on the beat for us given the resources to be able to do things like spot checks, inspections."

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Disability advocate and public speaker Lisa Cox knows first hand what's like to suffer septic shock, organ failure and pressure sores -- which she says are significantly more painful than one might imagine.

"It's like putting a cigarette lighter on your skin. It is so, so painful. My hands and feet were quite literally rotting off and were amputated but that wasn't what hurt -- it was my pressure injuries, about the size of a five cent coin."

She suffered a brain haemorrhage at age 24, spent two months on life support and now lives with multiple disabilities. But she credits a significant part of her recovery to the quality of care she received in hospital, and from her family and friends.

"I'm incredibly fortunate that to have a husband and family and support network around me, but there are many people in the disability sector who don't."

Disability advocate Lisa Cox was horrified to learn of the circumstances around Ms Smith's death - but says the majority of carers in the disability sector act with kindness. Image: Facebook/Lisa Cox

While Smith's death has left Cox 'horrified', she says the majority of carers working in the disability sector are incredibly dedicated.

"Carers are amazing people and do wonderful work so this is certainly not a reflection of the entire industry."

The Disability Royal Commission began in April 2019 and is still underway, however public hearings have been temporarily suspended due to Covid-19.

South Australia Police have declared Smith's death to be a Major Crime, and a simultaneous manslaughter and coronial investigation continues.

SA Police searched the offices of the company that provided Ms Smith's care last week, and questioned a carer. Neither have yet been identified.

Feature image: South Australia Police

Contact the author: tryan@networkten.com.au