Media Articles

Dr. M J VandenBurg

 

Dr Malcolm Vandenburg is a Specialist in General and Pharmaceutical Medicine.

 

He is available to give medico-legal expert witness reports and appear as a medico legal expert witness and supply medical written expert opinions in any matters referred to on this page.

 

Stephen Gately - Fluid on the Lungs - But Why? (17th October 2009)

By Dr Malcolm VandenBurg BSc MBBS MISMA FCP FFPM FRCP

 

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The sad death of Stephen Gately, the Boyzone singer, has highlighted the duality of
the media and a difficult truth. It is almost like the emperor's new clothes. The press
is willing to accept that it was "natural causes" without enquiring what they were. The
Daily Mail article by Jan Moir which questioned this, sadly went for sensationalism and not
science, and distractedly highlighted aspects of his life and case which were immaterial to
the search for truth. The appropriate attack on them was a proportionate response to a
disproportionate article.

 

However the truth remains. 33 year old adults, be they heterosexual, bisexual,
homosexual or asexual do NOT die from natural causes such as "fluid on the lung" without
something else causing this.

 

It may be natural, such as inherited cardiac disease causing a weakening of the heart
muscle or damage to the heart muscle caused by a virus, it may be, although unlikely,
acutely an infection of the lung, but all would show up at autopsy.

 

It may be an inherited instability of the electrical system and wiring of the heart, which
would not show at autopsy, but if so, his family should be tested in case they have the
pathology as well.

 

It may be due to inhalation of toxic substances by accident, such as smoke or chemicals,
from who knows where, however the truth, however uncomfortable, is that if there were
no signs of anatomical damage or pathology, the most likely cause would be drugs in
some way either causing a chronic problem with the heart, although this would show up,
or an electrical instability of the heart, possibly coupled with an excited state, either due to
drugs or a natural social high or dancing or fighting or running.

 

It may also have been drugs causing a weakening of heart muscles or precipitating
abnormal heart rhythms, or inhalation of substances in an uncontrolled way or breath
holding games.

 

Even if the toxicology report is negative, this still does not rule drugs out. Many
substances which cause electrical instability of the heart are not looked for, even in the
most thorough forensic testing at the moment such as ghat/khat metabolites such as
cathinone, or will have left the body already such as the solvents (glue etc.) or amyl
nitrate type substances found in poppers. Even alcohol may acutely poison the heart
muscle leading to "fluid on the lung" as may other substances. Others may also cause
electrical instability, abnormal heart rhythms and then compromise the ability of the heart
to clear blood out of the lungs.

 

Sudden Sniffing Deaths from glue and petrol and industrial solvents were a mystery for a
long time but are now recognized as an autopsy/toxicology negative mechanism of death,
many deaths in Police Custody which are autopsy/toxicologically negative are suggested
to be due to an interplay of cardiac stimulation by drugs or illness, coupled with stress,
physical exertion, and/or "proportionate" restraint.

 

The world wanting to know the truth about a wonderful singer should not be hood
winked by either extreme of the argument be that unexplained "fluid on the lung" or a
homophobic diatribe!

 

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