Monte B. Callaway blew off his jaw trying to commit suicide. Now he wants the state of Oregon to pay an estimated $45,000 to fix his face while he serves a prison term. The state says it won’t because the surgery is cosmetic, not necessary.
Callaway is making his case himself in suits filed in federal court, the Oregonian reported Friday.
His unusual claim is part of a prison medical care system that costs taxpayers $100 million a year. Federal courts have ruled that inmates have a constitutional right to medical care equal to what’s available on the outside.
Prison officials determine what care is necessary and what is elective. Only rarely does Corrections Department policy allow use of public money for elective procedures such as tattoo removal.
Four years ago, Callaway walked into a bar in the coast town Bandon looking for his estranged wife.
“She wanted a divorce. I decided to give her a divorce, and I took a 12-gauge shotgun to make that happen,” Callaway said.
He fired one round at a bartender he thought was seeing his wife, striking the man in the head with bird shot. Then Callaway put the gun under his own chin.
The blast blew away his lower jaw, most of his teeth and his mouth. He’s undergone reconstructive operations — initial medical bills amounted to $286,000, mostly covered by private insurance. He still has no teeth, and his mouth is so small a spoon doesn’t fit.
In the meantime, the concrete contractor by trade made a plea deal and is serving seven years on an assault conviction.
Callaway, now at a Salem prison, wants to resume the reconstruction. He says he can eat only soft foods. He gets an extra 15 minutes at mealtime to take them in.
A medical committee decided against surgery, noting in its records that the agency “generally does not provide facial reconstructive surgery, which is considered mainly for cosmetic purposes.” Department of Corrections officials have stuck to that position.
Callaway’s surgeon, Dr. Eric Dierks, fashioned a lower jaw from bone taken from Callaway’s leg. Dierks also built a new mouth. He says cosmetic surgery improves the appearance of an existing feature, such as breasts or a nose.
Without reconstructive surgery, including special dentures, Dierks said, Callaway faces a bleak future when he gets out in 2016.
“He can keep himself alive, but that mush diet is probably not very nutritious,” Dierks said.
“I doubt he will be employable. He will probably be on welfare, live as a recluse, and not contribute to society. I’d like to see him back working concrete.”
Magistrate Judge Thomas Coffin in Eugene will consider Callaway’s lawsuits. Legal help from the state Justice Department so far has cost the Corrections Department more than $10,000.
Callaway understands why the public might be aghast at his claim but insists the disruption in his care is the government’s fault, not his.
“I’m stuck,” Callaway said. “There isn’t an insurance company that’s going to take me on because it’s pre-existing. I’ll be like this the rest of my life.”