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Medical Authorities Hope Autopsy Will Explain Mystery Death

February 23, 1994 GMT

RIVERSIDE, Calif. (AP) _ While her remains lay in a sealed aluminum coffin, Gloria Ramirez’s family denied hotly that she had taken any substance that would have made fumes pour from her body and sicken a hospital emergency room staff.

Medical examiners were taking special precautions with the autopsy on the body of Ramirez. It originally was scheduled for today but then was postponed until Thursday while they made additional safety preparations.

Ramirez died Saturday night of a heart attack after six hospital workers who were treating her suddenly fell unconscious from noxious fumes.


Relatives, upset at the notion she was somehow at fault for the mystery illness, wondered why paramedics who took her to the hospital didn’t get sick, too.

″Whatever happened, happened in that emergency room,″ said nephew Louis Huerta. ″There’s something wrong here, and we’re going to find out. We won’t let this rest.″

Authorities searched Ramirez’s apartment for poison she may have swallowed, but didn’t find any, according to her father, Jesus Ramirez.

Coroner’s officials told Jesus Ramirez that autopsy results probably wouldn’t be available until Friday.

Ramirez, who was undergoing treatment for ovarian cancer, complained of pain Saturday night and was alert and vomiting when she arrived at the hospital. Within moments, the 31-year-old woman was in full cardiac arrest.

A preliminary coronor’s investigation suggested the fumes came from the body of Ramirez. How poison got there remained a mystery.

″She had like this film on her body, like you see on the ground at a gas station,″ nurse Sally Balderas, recovering at Parkview Community Hospital, told The Press-Enterprise from her bed.

The staff was overcome after technicians began placing electrodes on her body and someone drew blood samples, Balderas recounted.

″The nurses just started fainting. I was putting them on gurneys, starting IVs and moving them to the parking lot. I also moved the victim from the trauma room to the isolation room,″ said Balderas, who collapsed 15 minutes later.

Doctors rejected the idea that Ramirez’ cancer medication was at fault, and Ramirez’ family said suicide by pesticide was out of the question.

″These stories on the news make her sound like an alien and a freak,″ said Melody Barnett, who is married to Ramirez’ nephew. ″She was a normal person just like me and you.″

Medical tests Tuesday indicated the sickened workers may have inhaled some kind of organophosphate, a compound found in pesticides and military nerve gas.

That could account for some of the symptoms, including sweating, vomiting and irregular heartbeat, but specialists said they don’t usually make people pass out immediately.

Some household products contain 1 percent to 2 percent organophosphates, while agricultural pesticides have up to 40 or 50 percent.

″Not too many things can cause a first-whiff knockdown punch,″ said Dr. Rick Dart, toxicology spokesman for the American College of Emergency Physicians.

State agriculture officials, despite protests, last week sprayed a solution of the pesticide malathion, an organophosphate, over the city of Corona, about seven miles from the hospital, but there was no possible connection, said Doug Hendricks, spokesman for the Cooperative Medfly Project.

″The concentrations we use for Medfly control are minuscule,″ he said. ″There have been over 400 studies done, and there’s never been any indication the concentrations we use are harmful to humans or animals.″