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Man who died from heat in Harris County couldn't afford to fix broken AC unit, family says

The man was taken to a hospital from his southwest Houston home that didn't have air conditioning. He died in late June.

HOUSTON — The Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences confirmed to KHOU 11 on Friday that it has reported its first heat-related death of the year.

Officials with the medical examiner's office said the victim, 67-year-old Victor Ramos, was brought to an area hospital from his home in southwest Houston, which did not have any air conditioning. He was pronounced dead on June 24.

His cause of death was listed as hyperthermia with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease also being a contributing factor.

KHOU 11's Zack Tawatari spoke with Ramos' sister, Karla, who said he had been let go from his job in March and had been struggling to make ends meet while he and his family took care of their sick father. She said he couldn't afford to fix his broken AC unit.

"If people have family, keep an eye on them," she said.

Karla said her brother had lived in the home for 35 years.

“He had told me during the day that he wasn't feeling too good, he was a little bit tired. And he was going to rest a little bit," she said. “I went to check on him by nine in the morning, and I found him unresponsive.” 

“I never thought he would be the one to go.” 

Karla remembered her brother Victor as caring, outspoken and outgoing.

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In the Houston heat, health professionals urge people to watch out for vulnerable family members, friends and neighbors, stay hydrated and limit outdoor exercise to early mornings or evening hours.

If someone starts to get confused, passes out or has a very high temperature, it's time to go to the hospital. 

Even though Houstonians are used to hot summers and high humidity, this extreme heat is another story.

“So many patients have really not been exposed to the high heat at this level, at this intensity, for this many days in a row," said Dr. Neil Ghandi, the regional medical director for Houston Methodist Hospitals. “We usually see some of these patients and cases closer to July, August and September. This is the first time that I can remember in the last 10 years that we’ve had patients coming to the hospital in June with these kinds of symptoms.”

Prevent heat-related illnesses

  • Drink lots of water.
  • If you’re working or exercising outside, limit it to early morning or the evening when it’s cooler.
  • If you have to be outside during the heat, wear light-colored, loose clothing.
  • Do not leave children, senior citizens, or pets in an unattended vehicle.
  • Wear a wide-brimmed hat and use sunscreen.
  • Seek air conditioning. If you’re not at home, consider visiting malls, movie theaters or libraries.

Symptoms of dehydration

  • Thirst
  • Dry mouth
  • Dark yellow urine
  • Dry, cool skin
  • Headache
  • Muscle cramps 

How to treat dehydration

  • Move inside if possible
  • Drink water or sports drinks with electrolytes
  • Eat regular meals to replace salt lost in sweat
  • Steer clear of alcohol

Symptoms of heat exhaustion

  • Heavy sweating
  • Cold, pale and clammy skin
  • Headache
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Muscle cramps
  • Dizziness
  • Fainting
  • Fast, weak pulse

How to treat heat exhaustion

  • Move to a cool place
  • Loosen or remove your clothing
  • Use cool, wet cloths or take a cool bath
  • Sip water or drinks containing electrolytes
  • If you’re throwing up or can’t cool down, get medical help

Sources: CDC, UT Health

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