Airtight suits used in `fumes' autopsy
Jonathan T. Lovitt ; Anita Manning
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
-- 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