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As heat-related deaths surge, one Houston family is sharing their heartbreak

Data shows nationwide and in Harris County, heat-related deaths are way up.

HOUSTON — Nationwide, there’s a surge of heat-related deaths that hasn’t been seen in 20 years, according to a KHOU 11 Investigates analysis of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data from 2002 to 2022.

The numbers also show that Texas ranks second for the most heat-related deaths in the country, and Harris County had the third most in the state.

Gloria Jones and her mother, Pearlie Wilson, of Acres Homes are dealing with that heartbreaking reality.

Jones, who lives a few doors down from her mother, visits often. Their conversations, these days, center around the weather.

“It’s very, very uncomfortable,” Jones said.

“You’ve got to go (to the store) early in the morning. I could go with you, but it’s so hot, I’d rather stay home.” Pearlie Wilson said.

“I did go early this morning,” Jones said.

On this day, Jones is cooling off from a daily grocery run she made for her mother.

“You’ve got to drink plenty of water because it’s so hot,” Wilson said.

These ladies know how dangerous the heat can be. Wilson’s husband, Jones’ father, Frank, died from complications of hyperthermia and heart disease nearly two years ago.

They said his health took a turn when a car hit a light pole near their home, knocking out power for three weeks.

“He just started complaining about how hot it was in here. I didn’t ever know that he was dying. His legs swole up. His feet swole up. I did all I could to try to make him comfortable. That’s all I could do,” Wilson said.

Jones said she tried to give him CPR.

“About that time mama walked around and she said, ‘Is he gone? I said, ‘Yes, ma’am. He’s gone,’” Jones said.

Frank Wilson died on September 9, 2021, at the age of 86. He was one of 14 people in Harris County who died of heat-related illnesses that year. Last year, the county saw an increase, 17 heat-related deaths.

It was the highest since 2005, the year mass evacuations from Hurricane Rita led to increased heat-related deaths.

“I’m not surprised. And this year, it’s even worse,” Wilson said.

According to Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences records from the last five years, the most vulnerable were more likely to die from heat. Fifteen percent were children who died in hot cars, 29 percent involved drugs or alcohol, 32 percent had an underlying medical condition, mostly heart problems, like Frank Wilson.

“It was hot. And, not hot like it is right now. It is hot right now,” Wilson said.

Overall, Texas had the tenth highest heat-related deaths in the country in 2022, behind Arizona. Harris County ranked 10th in the country and third in the state, next to Tarrant and Dallas Counties.

Wilson now finds herself in another battle with the heat. She does not have central air. The window unit in her kitchen is all she can afford, and it is working overtime.

“It stays on day and night. I never turn it off. I’m tolerating it now because this is all I can do,” Wilson said.

The plants in her front yard have turned brown.

“My mums right here, they died. I had a fern and an airplane plant. Those died too,” Wilson said.

Jones visits daily, making sure her mother does not travel far.

“You better be careful, because it’s very dangerous,” Wilson said.

As triple digit heat continues, the Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences has reported 15 heat-related deaths in 2023 as of Aug. 16.

Click here for more information about heat safety, a list of cooling centers, to see the ERCOT dashboard and more. 

Cheryl Mercedes on social media: Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

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