Name Mixup Results In Erroneous Cremation

There are some mistakes one simply can’t recover from. Cremating the wrong person is one of them.

That happened recently in Los Angeles when someone failed to match the coroner’s case number to the individual about to be cremated and … the wrong guy with the same name was done for, forever.

One Jorge Hernandez died of a drug overdose earlier this month. His family was planning a private viewing and a funeral.

Another Jorge Hernandez, who was indigent, was the one who was supposed to be cremated.

Understandably, the family of the cremated man were stunned by what happened..

“The department is profoundly sorry for any additional discomfort that this has caused the loved ones of Mr. Hernandez,” said Armand Montiel, speaking for the coroner’s office. The chief medical examiner delivered a personal apology to the family, he said.

Family members weren’t comfortable with that.

“Sorry doesn’t bring him back. This was really upsetting,” said Mary Lou Diaz of her nephew’s cremation. “I know they have bodies stacking up but there needs to be accountability here.

“We thought, ‘No, this isn’t happening. They have to be wrong,’ ” she said. “It was devastating. There was no goodbye. There was no closure. The whole family has been affected by this double tragedy.”

The incident occurred as the coroner’s office is trying to reduce a major backlog in cases caused by staffing shortages. The backlog has sparked complaints from families and law enforcement officials.

Luis Carrillo, an attorney for Hernandez’s family, said a lawsuit is being planned.

“The coroner’s office is chronically understaffed and underfunded, so errors get made and this has a very real impact on their survivors,” he said. “There was apparently no supervisor double-checking on the bodies before cremation.”

Carrillo said Hernandez’s mother, Mirna Amaya, was particularly hit hard by the mistake. “She wanted photos of his peacefully resting in his coffin,” Carrillo said. “She is so distraught she had to seek medical treatment.”

Coroner’s records show Hernandez’s death was an accidental drug overdose, The Los Angeles Times reported.

The coroner’s office’s accreditation with the National Assn. of Medical Examiners was due to expire Aug. 24 but remains active pending the results and report of an inspection Oct. 17.

To keep its full, five-year accreditation, the office must be completed within 90 days in 90% of cases. However, an office with some shortcomings can receive provisional accreditation for a year. Such accreditation is not legally required but provides a guarantee of quality and bolster its credibility in court.

Officials have blamed staffing and budget shortages, broken equipment and the difficulty in recruiting and training highly skilled employees for massive backlogs on autopsies and testing. County supervisors have boosted funding and is in the process of hiring 22 additional employees.

But as of Sept. 21, toxicology and other tests had not been completed on more than 1,500 bodies — an improvement over June, when the figure was 2,100.

In 2015, the L.A. coroner’s office completed 81% of its cases within the 90-day window; the rate dropped to 78% between June 2015 and June 2016. As of last month, nearly 1,500 cases remain incomplete after 90 days, including roughly 570 that have lingered for more than 150 days.

Montiel said the coroner’s office has a strict policy requiring staffers to check the name and the coroner’s case number to make sure there are no misidentifications. He said this system has generally worked.



Concussed Kids Too Often Return Right Away To Playing Fields



You can’t always protect people from themselves – but coaches of young footballers who return to play on the same day they’ve been concussed should be disciplined. Amazingly, more than a third do go back into action shortly after suffering a head injury, according to a study presented last Friday (Oct. 21) at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ (AAP).

A HealthDay article noted that concussion guidelines and laws in all states discourage youth athletes from returning to play if they have any signs of concussion after a head injury. But, the findings from this study suggest those rules are often ignored.

Researchers looked at 185 young athletes treated for concussion at a Texas pediatric sports clinic in 2014. They were between the ages of 7 and 18. Forty-seven percent suffered a concussion while playing football and 16 percent while playing soccer, the researchers said.

The study found that 71 (38 percent) of the athletes returned to play on the same day they got a concussion. Those who immediately returned to play after their concussion reported less severe symptoms of dizziness and balance problems immediately after being hurt.

However, by the time they were seen in the clinic these patients were more likely to report the presence and increased severity of nausea, dizziness, balance problems, sensitivity to light and noise, feeling “slowed down,” pressure in the head, confusion, concentration problems and difficulty falling asleep.

While studies presented at meetings tend to be viewed as preliminary until they’ve been published in a peer-reviewed journal, this one strongly suggests “that we still have work to do to change behaviors to protect short- and long-term brain health of youth athletes,” study author Meagan Sabatino, a senior clinical research coordinator at Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Children in Plano, said in an AAP news release.

“We need to emphasize the message: ‘When in doubt, sit them out — and keep them out — until full recovery,’ ” said study author Dr. Shane Miller, a pediatric sports medicine specialist at the hospital.

And while they’re out, it might be a good idea if they were required to read a ‘playbook’ on the long-term effects of concussion-type head injuries, as exemplified by NFL veterans and others.


Nose Cartilage Used To Repair Similar Material in Ten Patients’ Knees


Swiss doctors have demonstrated a way to use cartilage from a nose to repair damaged cartilage in a knee. Ten patients underwent the procedure two years ago, and MRIs taken recently showed new growth very similar to the knee’s own cartilage, and patients reported improvements in knee function, reductions in pain, and improvements in quality of life, it was reported on October 22 in The Lancet.

“We have developed a new, promising approach to the treatment of articular cartilage injuries,” said lead researcher Ivan Martin, a professor of tissue engineering at the University of Basel. The articular cartilage is the tissue that covers and protects the ends of the knee bones, and injuries to it can lead to degenerative joint conditions like osteoarthritis.

Although the results of this preliminary trial are encouraging, more research is needed before this technique could become widely available, Martin stressed.

“Before this can be offered to patients as a standard treatment, obviously it needs to be tested in a larger number of patients and in randomized trials with long-term assessment of clinical outcomes,” Martin said.

One joint repair expert welcomed the new approach.

“Treatment of cartilage injuries remains a significant clinical problem, and there is no gold standard treatment and no optimal treatment available,” said Dr. Nicole Rotter, vice chair of the department of otorhinolaryngology at Ulm University in Germany.

Using cells from the nose for joint repair is completely new, added Rotter, who co-wrote an editorial accompanying the study. “Nasal cartilage might be a great source for cartilage repair; however, further clinical studies are required,” she said.

For the study, Martin and colleagues took a small sample of cartilage cells from the patient’s nose bone, then grew more cells by exposing them to growth hormone for two weeks. All the cells were then placed in a membrane of collagen and cultured for two more weeks.

The engineered graft was cut into the right shape and used to replace damaged cartilage after it was surgically removed from the patient’s knee.

With the procedure, only a small sample of cells is taken from the nose, using a local anesthetic. After the knee is repaired, the patient is on crutches for six to eight weeks. It typically takes several months for a full recovery, the researchers said.

No bad reactions were reported, but two serious adverse events unrelated to the procedure occurred — an independent injury in the untreated knee and new cartilage damage in other areas of the treated knee, the researchers said.

Dr. Matthew Hepinstall, an orthopaedic surgeon at Lenox Hill Hospital Center for Joint Preservation and Reconstruction in New York City, welcomed the new findings.

Even small articular cartilage injuries can cause pain, limit walking and running, and restrict joint motion, Hepinstall told HealthDay. “Over time, surrounding healthy cartilage can deteriorate — resulting in arthritis,” he added.

A variety of surgical procedures have been developed to fill “potholes” in articular cartilage, with varying success, he said.

For the last two decades, surgeons have been able to take cartilage cells from the knee, grow them in a lab, and put them back into a patient’s knee, Hepinstall said.

But that procedure requires two operations, Hepinstall noted.

This new study demonstrates the plausibility of taking cartilage cells from the nose in a less invasive procedure that only requires a local anesthetic, he said.

Hot Pepper Causes 2.5cm Rip In Man’s Esophagus


Louisiana pepper breeder/grower Tony Primeaux handles some hot ones. (Photo: Lee Celano/The Daily Advertiser via AP)

(This post appeared earlier — yesterday — on my other blog,

A 47-year-old man recently attempted a rather silly, super-spicy feat – eating a hamburger covered with a ghost pepper puree. The ghost pepper measures a scary 1 million units on the Scoville heat unit (SHU) scale, a per-mass measure of capsaicin, the chemical compound that makes some peppers spicy-hot.

By way of comparison, a bell pepper measures 0 on that scale. A jalapeno comes in at between 3,500-10,000 units; a Serrano and a Peperoncino score in the range of 10,000-30,000 units, and both Cayenne and Tabasco peppers range from 30,000-50,000 units – about as high as most people care to experience. (Police pepper spray, by the way, comes it at around 5,000,000 SHU – Scoville Heat Units.)

(I thought my mouth was on fire once when I took a bite out of an Habanero, AKA Scotch Bonnet chili – 100,000 -350,000 heat units – I’d found on sale at a London street market. As quickly as I could, I went into a pub and ordered a pint of beer, as beer is rumored to cut the effect of heat in food, or peppers. Alternatively, the beer may just make you forget about the pepper’s burning sensation!)

An article in The Washington Post said that peppers that pass the 1 million SHU mark are called superhot; as a rule they are reddish and puckered, as though one of Satan’s internal organs had prolapsed. To daredevil eaters of a certain stripe, the superhot peppers exist only to challenge.

When consumed, ghost peppers and other superhots provoke extreme reactions.

“Your body thinks it’s going to die,” as Louisiana pepper grower Ronald Primeaux told the AP in October. “You’re not going to die.”

The Washington Post’s Tim Carman described eating a pea-sized chunk of the pepper, sans seeds, in 2012. “It was as if my head had become a wood-burning oven, lighting up my tongue and the interior of my skull,” he wrote. “Milk provided little relief, until the burn began to subside on its own about 10 minutes later.”

Primeaux, who hopes to claim the world’s hottest title through cultivating his Louisiana Creeper variety, said, “When you put one of these in your mouth, it’s a whole ‘nother ballgame,” in his interview with the AP. “A bear is chasing you. You’ve just been in a car wreck. You just got caught speeding, and a cop is giving you a ticket.”


Pepper breeder/grower Tony Primeaux with some of his plants. (Photo: Lee Celano/The Daily Advertiser via AP)

That truly seemed to be the sensation experienced by the unnamed 47-year-old reported on in The Journal of Emergency Medicine. For him, “ingesting the pepper burger was less a bear chase and closer to an attack,” The Post article said.

As physicians at the University of California at San Francisco reported in the case study reported on in The Journal of Emergency Medicine article, he consumed the burger and attempted to quench the heat in his mouth with six glasses of water. When that failed the man began to vomit, which gave way to abdominal pain. He dialed emergency help.

At the emergency department, he received Maalox and painkillers. After his condition worsened, doctors moved him to the operating room, where they discovered a “2.5-cm tear in the distal esophagus,” about one inch, as the case report authors noted. The force of the vomiting and retching led to a rare diagnosis of Boerhaave’s syndrome; these spontaneous tears in the esophagus can be fatal if they are not diagnosed and treated.

“The rupture was as a result of the forceful vomiting and retching,” said UC San Francisco clinical fellow and study author Ann Arens, in an email to The Washington Post, “as a result of eating the hamburger with the ghost pepper puree.”

In this case, surgeons were able to repair the man’s throat. “He remained intubated until hospital day 14, began tolerating liquids on hospital day 17,” they wrote, “and was discharged home with a gastric tube in place on hospital day 23.”

The researchers concluded the case study with a warning.

“Food challenges have become common among social media, including the infamous cinnamon challenge,” they wrote, referencing the spice fad that was popular in early 2012. (When eating a heaping spoonful of cinnamon went wrong, it led to emergency calls and at least one collapsed lung.)

“When people ask me whether it is safe to try the ‘spicy food challenges’ I generally take a Nancy Reagan stance,” said Arens, “and say ‘Just Say No.’ But if you really just can’t help yourself, I would recommend just starting with a taste.”


Wind Poses Threat To Cyclists Hearing


BOOM! BANG! Such sounds, and even wind noise, if loud enough, can pose hearing-damage risks to cyclists, a new study says.

While cycling – on bicycles, as opposed to motorcycles – has long been heralded as a good source of exercise and an excellent excuse to dress in funny outfits, often decorated with non-sponsoring sponsors’ badges, it’s never before been cited, to our knowledge, as a potential source of hearing damage.

But there you are: Researchers are going all sorts of strange places these days.

The research was conducted by study co-leader Dr. Anna Wertz and colleagues in, of all places, Detroit, Michigan (home of Henry Ford’s pioneering automobile plant), under the auspices of Henry Ford Hospital, where Dr. Wertz is an otolaryngologist. (That’s a popular one in the ‘list of hard-to-pronounce words’!)

For the cycling-related study, microphones were attached to cyclists’ ears to measure wind noise at various speeds. Wind noise ranged from 85 decibels at 15 mph to 120 decibels at 60 mph.

“These findings are important because noise-induced hearing loss can begin with sounds at or above 85 decibels,” said study co-leader Dr. Anna Wertz. How loud is that? Heavy city traffic registers 85 decibels; an ambulance siren or a clap of thunder from a nearby storm can reach 120 decibels, according to the U.S. National Institutes of Health.

“Short-term exposure to loud sounds isn’t likely to have a lasting effect on hearing, but prolonged or repeated exposure can lead to permanent damage,” Wertz added in a hospital news release.


Blast, Fires Hit World’s Largest Chemical Complex; At Least 2 Dead, 6 Injured 2 Missing


The headquarters of the world’s largest chemical company, BASF, was hit earlier today by an explosion and numerous fires — none caused by terrorists. The incidents, at Ludwigshafen, Germany, killed at least two people and injured a number of others, and at 2:55 p.m. EDT, nearly 12 and a half hours after 11:30 a.m. (local time) incident, the situation remained in flux, with fires still burning and some degree of confusion on the ground, according to various wire reports. At the time of the blast, workmen were modifying a pipeline used to carry flammable liquids and liquefied gas to a tank at a harbor near one of the complex’s numerous plants. Chemicals used in the plant to produce the likes of eytylene, propylene and hydrogen are supplied through that harbor.

Residents of several nearby towns were encouraged to close their windows and stay indoors as thick black blanketed the area and fires were still burning.



Phone Scam Created by A Millenial-aged Indian Gets $74M From Americans


Site of illegal call centers in Mumbai. Photo: Economic Times of India

A tele-scam initiated by a 23-year-old in Mumbai pulled in some $74,000,000 from Americans who believed his pitch that his ‘agents’, who staffed three call centers, were IRS agents set on collecting monies owned from the individuals called via VoIP (Voice Over Internet) protocols. The scheme continued for roughly year before it was reported to Indian authorities by a disgruntled employee, The Economic Times of India reported yesterday (Oct. 10).

The scam artist, Shahgar Thakkar, who sometimes went by the name Shaggy, is on the run, the Times’ website said.

Handsets dialled in the U.S. were supposed to show the calls came from +911 – but not all did. The half dozen or so of those calls I received showed random, usually not-in-service numbers around the U.S.

The ‘agents’ supposedly received extensive training in American accents, but the ones who left call-back messages from me sounded pretty Indian to me!

Victims were first asked for $10,000-$20,000, then when undoubtedly told nothing like that amount of money was available, the ‘agents’ agreed to settle the account for $5,000 or as little as $3,000, the website said.

The numbers called were bought by accomplices in the U.S. at a rate of roughly $1,500 for 10,000 names. The money scammed through the scheme was split among the U.S.-based participants in the ring, the calling ‘agents’, and, of course, Shaggy, who undoubtedly took care of the call center costs.

The ‘agents’, who were recruited through flyers and social media, were paid in cash – some as little as $2,200  a month (still a goodly sum to an uneducated Indian) or, if they were more talented and successful at what they were doing, they received as much as 4.5 times that amount.

Around 100 calls were made per day per agent – a relatively low number for a U.S.-based call center, where agents typically make 300 or more calls per day – and it was typical for 10-15 of the successful calls/callbacks resulted in money being wormed out of the victims.

The scheme was shut down recently when Mumbai police raided the illegal call centers.