CASPER, Wyo. — Just as a Seal-A-Meal food vacuum seals leftovers for another day's dinner, so does a new heat-sealing technology lock in what remains of decomposing and communicable-disease-ridden bodies at the Natrona County coroner's office.
"Once the body is sealed in here, you can't even tell we've got anybody in this building that's decomposing," Natrona County Coroner Connie Jacobson said.
Jacobson believes she is the first coroner in the state to use the heat-sealing system, which she said has drastically improved her office's hygiene and safety standards.
Decomposing bodies — at times found in their homes six weeks after their dying day — don't exactly lend themselves to easy handling, according to Jacobson.
"They're liquid people," Jacobson said. "I can't work with them when they're liquid people."
Jacobson chills decomposing bodies in a single-person freezer, which she said slows decomposition and solidifies the body.
Before the new containment system -- which was developed for mass fatalities by biohazard containment manufacturer BioSeal Systems -- Jacobson stored decomposing bodies in plastic body bags that folded but did not seal. Spills and drips often happened during transport. The smell, Jacobson said, "was huge."
Today, she slides the decomposing body and its zipped body bag into the BioSeal's open plastic sleeve. She runs a hot iron clamp -- a tool that resembles an electric hair straightener -- around the sides and corners of the BioSeal system to fuse together the thick plastic sheets. Once sealed, the now odorless and leak-free container goes to its final destination, whether that be a crematory or funeral home.
Jacobson has used the new system about 10 times since it arrived in July, she said.
When examining a body to determine the cause and manner of death, Jacobson works with an investigator's eye for evidence and a nurse's attention to detail. She is on track to be the first Wyoming coroner accredited by the International Association of Coroners and Medical Examiners, according to IAC&ME Secretary John Fudenberg.
"These are my patients," Jacobson said. "Almost every person I get here, I look at them on that table and I think, 'That's someone's dad, someone's mom.'
"Just because someone dies doesn't mean I stop taking care of them."
Information from: Casper (Wyo.) Star-Tribune, http://www.trib.com