As we wrote in the previous article, A University of Pittsburgh doctor was found guilty of poisoning his doctor-wife last November. And two weeks ago he learned he will be spending the rest of his life in a Pennsylvania state prison.
Ferrante, a co-director of the University of Pittsburgh Center for ALS Research, used a university credit card to buy a half-pound of cyanide two days before his wife collapsed.
An Allegheny County jury of four women and eight men reviewed the facts of the case for 15 hours before convicting Doctor Robert Joseph Ferrante in the cyanide death of his wife, Doctor Autumn Marie Klein. Their verdict was unanimous.
But a lesser-known fact in this case is this: had it not been for the sworn testimony of the two Paramedics who initially treated her, the case might never have gone to trial. Briefly, here’s why:
As his dying wife lay gasping for air on the kitchen floor on the night of the poisoning, Doctor Ferrante told the medics that he wanted them to transport her to a smaller, less-sophisticated hospital called Shadyside. Under the circumstances, this was a ridiculous demand. Even non-medical citizens in the Pittsburgh area were aware of what Ferrante and the Paramedics both knew: that University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, where the couple worked, was not only several minutes closer. It is a trauma center, far better equipped to handle critical patients, especially late at night. And even though no one but Ferrante knew at the time, the only treatment that could possibly save the woman’s life is a procedure called extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, also known as ECMO, which pumps blood from the body, saturates it with oxygen and then returns it to the circulation system.
Shadyside does not have that capability in its emergency room, and Ferrante knew it.
Although Paramedics are routinely in charge of a medical scene, in our experience, very few possess the intestinal fortitude to countermand a physician whose wife is dying on a kitchen floor. But these medics were adamant that their patient go the most appropriate ER, and that is exactly what they did.
Shortly after the patient was admitted into the hospital, one of the treating MDs ordered a blood test, which revealed an oddly high level of acid. On a hunch, the doctor then ordered the specific test for cyanide poisoning. It is highly unlikely that this check for cyanide poisoning – an extremely rare event – would have even been done at the smaller hospital, where Robert Ferrante wanted his wife taken.
Doctor Klein died on April 20, 2013. Three days later, at Dr. Ferrante’s insistence, her body was cremated. As a result, there was no autopsy.
Doctor Karl Williams, the Allegheny County Medical Examiner, based on the toxicology reports, determined that Doctor Klein had died of cyanide poisoning. The forensic pathologist ruled her death a homicide.
Cyanide kills by blocking oxygen to the cells. A lethal dose for a healthy adult can be as small as 200 milligrams – about the size of a drop of water. The poison acts quickly and is nearly undetectable almost immediately after ingestion. Had samples of Doctor Klein’s blood not been taken quickly, there would have been no real physical evidence of poisoning.
Much later, the medics testified that as they were caring for the lady on the floor, they noticed she was lying next to a plastic bag, which Ferrante said contained creatine, and a small glass vial.
Prosecutors were able to prove that Doctor Klein had swallowed cyanide-laced creatine that Ferrante had mixed into her energy drink just minutes before she collapsed.
After the trial jurors told the news media that testimony of the Paramedics was one of the key aspects of the circumstantial case that convinced them of the murderous doctor’s guilt.
In the end, the Pittsburgh-area Paramedics were not able to save this woman’s life. But they certainly helped prevent yet another lab coat lunatic from getting away with murder.
So in our view, this case underscores the fact that EMS professionals often benefit society in far more ways than the obvious. And one way is to dig their boots into the floor in the heat of crisis, stare rotten physicians directly in the eye and say, “No.”
Pity how few are willing to do so. Thus, the EMS conundrum continues . . . .
Here’s more on this all-too-common, ‘doctor kills wife’ murder case:
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