Inquest hears of missing heart due to transplant

Saturday, April 27, 2002 – Print Edition, Page A21

A discarded heart may forever be the missing part of the puzzle into what caused a stroke that killed Lana Dale Lewis in 1996.

A coroner's jury looking into the 45-year-old's death heard yesterday that her heart was removed for organ transplant following her death. While the valves may have been donated, nothing was done with the rest of the heart for almost 90 days following her death, at which point it was destroyed.

Most important, it was not available for pathologists to examine during the autopsy, lawyer Tim Danson told the jury on the fifth day of the inquest in Toronto.

Mr. Danson said the heart, the most prized organ for transplant, is important for his clients, the Canadian Chiropractic Association and the Canadian Memorial Chiropractic College, because it may have proven the extent of the damage caused by Ms. Lewis's hypertension.

"We would have liked a definitive answer on the state of her heart," Mr. Danson told the jury looking into a possible link between the chiropractic neck adjustment she received on Aug. 26, 1996, and her death from a stroke 17 days later.

"My clients feel compromised that the heart was not examined," he told John Deck, the pathologist who reviewed the autopsy results and examined some tissue samples.

During cross-examination by Mr. Danson, Dr. Deck agreed that the condition of the heart will never be known, but said that there was "only a remote possibility that an embolism from the heart was responsible for what happened to Ms. Lewis."

To prevent the loss of body parts that may be important in determining the cause of death, Mr. Danson suggested that the jury may want to recommend that the coroner order that organs that might be needed for the autopsy not be harvested for transplant.

Such a practice might aggravate the already long waiting lists for organs, Dr. Deck said.

As well, it would force the coroner to weigh the importance of organ transplant against the equally important need to conduct autopsies, he said.

The jury has heard conflicting theories about how the mother of three died.

Dr. Deck has testified that he is 90 per cent certain that neck manipulation was the cause, based in part on the finding of an injury to the left vertebral artery on the neck.

In his opinion, twisting the neck during the procedure caused a blood clot to travel into the brain.

Ms. Lewis suffered her first stroke on Sept. 1, 1996, and a fatal one on Sept. 10.

Mr. Danson argues that the fatal stroke occurred when a piece of plaque in her clogged artery located further up in the skull broke loose and travelled into the brain.

Although at odds over many aspects of the autopsy results, the two men agreed that there was no tearing of the artery, which scientific literature says should be present if the stroke was due to neck manipulation.

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