Airtight suits used in `fumes' autopsy

  Jonathan T. Lovitt ; Anita Manning


  USA Today


  Page 03A

  (Copyright 1994)


  RIVERSIDE, Calif. - A team of experts took elaborate precautions Thursday for

  an autopsy they hoped would explain what killed Gloria Ramirez and knocked

  out six emergency workers who tried to treat her.


  Two forensic pathologists performing the autopsy and two industrial hygienists

  monitoring the air planned to work in air-tight suits in intervals, perhaps

  throughout the night. Results of a chemical blood analysis could take weeks.


  A hazardous materials team stood by during the autopsy. Afterward, the autopsy

  team faced four decontamination scrubdowns and a 12-hour hospital stay for



  Ramirez, 31, a cancer patient, was brought to Riverside General Hospital's

  emergency room on Feb. 19 in cardiac arrest. A physician and five nurses passed

  out when Ramirez's blood was drawn.


  Several people reported an ammonia smell and nurse Sally Balderas described

  "fumes coming off her body, like you see coming off gasoline."


  Physician Julie Gorchynski and Balderas remain hospitalized. Gorchynski was

  taken off a ventilator Thursday; Balderas' condition was listed as stable.


  Discrepancies continued to baffle investigators:


  -- There were conflicting reports Thursday on whether Ramirez, Gorchynski and

  Balderas were exposed to organophosphate, a pesticide chemical. Los Angeles

  Poison Control Center toxicologists said blood tests indicated exposure to the

  chemical. But officials at Loma Linda University Medical Center ruled it out

  along with other chemicals, including cyanide and strychnine.


  Ashok Jain, a consultant to the Poison Control Center, said an enzyme test

  showed exposure to organophosphate, but the test on Ramirez wasn't conclusive.

  `If she was the source, she should have much lower enzyme levels," Jain said.

  "They may have to look somewhere else."


  -- Ramirez's family said that she had been undergoing chemotherapy for cervical

  cancer. But officials at Riverside and Loma Linda said that she did not receive

  such treatments.


  -- Attention also focused Thursday on a flushable basin next to the emergency

  table where Ramirez was treated. Two people noticed a urine-colored liquid in

  the basin just before the first worker fainted. The basin was later flushed and

  cleaned; it wasn't tested.


  Ramirez's sister and brother-in-law, Maggie and David Garcia, have hired lawyer

  Stephen Otto to consider a possible wrongful death lawsuit.


  Says Otto: "There were a number of people present at the time Gloria died, and

  I'm hoping we can count on their honesty. . . . As for (early) reports of her

  committing suicide, that's absolutely not true and has caused the family great



  Ramirez's sister says the family is still in shock. "I'm just really upset by all this,"

  Maggie Garcia says. "We haven't really grasped that she's gone yet. It just came

  so all of a sudden."

  PHOTO,b/w,Lois Bernstein,AP; PHOTO,b/w,AP