On Thursday, two medical doctors and a toxicologist – doctor Wouter Van Den Bogaert (UZ Leuven) and professor Jan Tytgat (KU Leuven), appointed by the investigating judge, and professor Werner Jacobs (UZA), appointed by Master Bert Partoens, counsel for the suspect – arrived. tell their story about the death of Maria Blanco (70) before the Tongeren court.
On June 20, 2014, the woman from Genk died in the Oost-Limburg Hospital after she became unwell in the afternoon and the doctor prescribed extra pain medication, which was prepared by the Genk nurse. Her death was confirmed at 4 p.m. The woman’s death was still considered suspicious despite her terminal cancer. The suspicion was correct because according to the autopsy and toxicological research it turned out that a mix of her regular medication, morphine and the comparable painkiller pethidine, may have been fatal. Remarkable: a coin found in her throat also raised eyebrows.
But what really caused the woman’s death in the end? If the overdose caused her death, that may be bad news for the nurse. If Blanco died from the coin, the nurse would not be responsible for her death. The experts’ testimonies were intended to be illuminating, but still raised many additional questions for the judges, who even adjourned briefly to deliberate.
Professor Tytgat explained more about the blood test and the medication found that the woman had in her body. He spoke several times about a combined overdose. “I can say in good conscience that the death can be explained with the cocktail of substances that I found in the blood and their concentration,” he said.
He also explained that the presence of the pethidine had a greater impact than the concentration of morphine in the blood. An important point, since the Genk nurse is being prosecuted for administering an overdose of pain medication after, in addition to the prescribed four ampoules of morphine and an ampoule of pethidine, she herself prepared a second ampoule of pethidine that, according to the prosecutor, caused the overdose. Besides relieving pain, the medication also suppresses breathing.
Coin above vocal cords
Doctor Van Den Bogaert, who performed the autopsy on Blanco’s body, stated that the woman died of asphyxiation, and cited other notable triggers besides the medication that affected the woman’s breathing. He talked about the lung tumor and associated pneumonia. And about a coin, which was found just above the vocal cords in Blanco’s throat. How it got there remains a mystery.
Yet he did not state that the woman suffocated due to the coin in her throat. He finds this rather unlikely because the coin did not completely block the air supply and the woman lived for another two hours between her deteriorating condition and her death. But still it is not excluded. “Because studies show that 3.3 percent of people die in such a case. But then I wonder why she didn’t gag or call for help. Normally you are in a death struggle and you do not lie quietly in bed. The combination of numerous medications with a sedative effect is a good explanation for this.” He suspected that the woman was first given the overdose and only later did the coin end up in her throat and was therefore no longer able to respond. “But I can’t say that with 100 percent certainty,” he concluded.
Finally, Professor Jacobs also spoke. He did take a clear position. According to him, the coin was there first, because according to him the amount of pethidine in the blood indicated that it was only administered just before Blanco’s death. According to him, no one noticed that the woman tried to cough it out because she was alone in the room. “Eventually you become exhausted and unresponsive. The lady’s condition was only diagnosed in the second phase of the asphyxiation. Then she gasped and saw blue. Because the doctor increased the morphine, which further hinders breathing, without further examination and therefore did not notice the coin, you signed the death warrant. The only life-saving action was to remove the coin. Then the situation might have been resolved,” he said. But according to him, the woman would not have survived even without the medication due to the slow suffocation caused by the coin.
During an earlier hearing on June 1, the public prosecutor demanded for the Genk nurse, given that the reasonable period had been exceeded, instead of eight years’ imprisonment, a prison sentence of six years and a deprivation of rights.
The case will be continued on May 2.