California

“Toxic lady” affects dozens in ER

February 19, 1994
Riverside, California
Gloria Ramirez, dubbed “The Toxic Lady” by the media, makes several ER personnel ill after being exposed to her body and blood

Ramirez was a volunteer elementary school teacher and was suffering from advanced cervical cancer when she was rushed into an emergency room. Nurse Susan Kane noticed a fruity-garlic like smell from Ramirez’s mouth as she drew Ramirez’s blood, and an ammonia-like smell from the where the blood was being drawn. It was also noted Ramirez had an oily sheen over her body. Additionally, Julie Gorchynski, a med student, reported manilla-colored particles in the blood just before the nurse Kane fainted.

More people became ill and fainted (23 became ill, 5 were hospitalized) and Ramirez passed away approximately 40 minutes after arriving at the ER. The worst victim of the infection was the med student Gorchynski who contracted hepatitis, pancreatitis, and avascular necrosis (the cellular death of bones).

The exact reason for the toxicity of Gloria Ramirez is debated but the prevailing theory states Ramirez self-administered dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO) as pain management for her cancer. Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory proposed this theory and suggested that, through a series of chemical reactions caused by medical staff — including oxygen being administered by paramedics — the DMSO was chemically changed to dimethyl sulfate, an extremely toxic oil chemical with a slight oniony- or garlicky-smell. This theory would explain the reactions medical staff had to Ramirez, as well as the oily sheen and garlic smell on her breath.

Another theory, though one that is not as widely accepted, claims the staff were merely victims of mass hysteria.

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