Problems highlighted by Degner’s death still damaging

Matthew Degner, son of Lydia Price, died in September, but there are still related problems locally and nationally: the house where they lived is still standing, and hoarding, a problem highlighted by his death, continues to afflict Americans.

Neighbors, including Horacio Hernandez of the 2800 block of Harvey, are concerned about the abandoned house. “Our concern is the house now because it’s abandoned. We don’t want an abandoned house in the area because people might try to live in there,” Hernandez said.

Hernandez said he didn’t want Berwyn to be known for the incident.

“[Price] was the only one outside of the loop of neighbors; she never really gave us an opportunity to help,” he said. “[Berwyn] is a very safe and clean neighborhood; there had been no serious problems until what happened.”

Berwyn Police Chief James Ritz described the circumstances of the animal hoarding. He said officers really didn’t get a chance to investigate because Price refused to admit them into the house. Although there were numerous calls, the closest officers ever came to entering the home was in 2004 when there was a call about a possible methamphetamine lab due to a stench. At that time, officers spoke with Price and saw dog feces, which were causing the smell, according to Ritz, who said they asked numerous times to enter the home and “did everything they could to investigate.”

“She was well within her rights to deny them entry,” Ritz said. “No judge would grant a warrant based on dog feces…the officers did everything they could.”

Police discovered the conditions of the house after they found Degner dead outside the home in the 2800 block of Lombard Avenue on Thursday, Sept. 8. They were then able to enter the home, where they found more than 200 animals living with Price, her four children and the children’s grandmother. Degner died of bronchopneumonia.

“It’s senseless to put blame on anyone…that’s not going to bring Matthew back,” Ritz said. He said the Berwyn police department conducted a critical incident debriefing for the officers involved since the situation was so horrendous. “We always offer counseling and monitor officers’ welfare to make sure no one begins to suffer PTSD,” he said. “It was something you hope you never see again.”

Hoarding, however, is more common than previously thought, according to Dr. John E. Calamari, Chair of the Scientific Advisory Board at OCD Chicago, an organization that provides resources about obsessive compulsive disorder, and professor and chair of the psychology department at Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science in North Chicago, Ill. “Hoarding goes unnoticed because they don’t come in for treatment,” he said. “There aren’t very good estimates, but its prevalence is higher than that of OCD, which is about 2 to 3 percent of the population.”

Calamari said hoarding is a heritable problem; its prevalence is increased if a person is related to someone who has hoarded. This connection is stronger than that of OCD, he said. Though it has seemed in the past that hoarding is a type of OCD, Calamari said hoarding appears to be different from OCD because the treatments that generally help people who have OCD, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI’s) and cognitive behavioral therapy, don’t seem to help people who have a hoarding problem. SSRI’s are a popular medication generally used to treat anxiety disorders and depression, while cognitive behavioral therapy is a class of therapies that focus on a client’s thoughts and try to change his or her thoughts in order to change behavior and emotions.

“This is a complicated problem…there is emerging research that suggests it involves lots of things, possibly including ADHD. There are a number of things that come together due to biological and learning experiences that make it more possible for hoarding to happen,” Calamari said. “It’s a severe mental illness we don’t really understand.”

Price is scheduled to have a court proceeding at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday, Dec. 14 at the Fourth Municipal District Courthouse in Maywood.

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