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Gloria Ramirez - The Toxic Lady : Mystery Files

Updated on March 26, 2012

Gloria Ramirez, the Toxic Lady

It was a Saturday night - the 19th of February 1994 to be exact - and a young woman, 31 year-old mother of two Gloria Ramirez had been rushed by ambulance to the emergency department of the Riverside General Hospital in California.

Gloria had been experiencing breathing difficulties, chest pain and repeated vomiting. It was pretty obvious that the lady needed treatment, and fast. However when she arrived in the emergency department, what should have been a fairly routine scenario of care and treatment quickly turned into a nightmare for Gloria, the staff and the hospital, and produced a medical mystery of unprecedented proportions.

Gloria Ramirez The Toxic Lady
Gloria Ramirez The Toxic Lady

The strangeness begins...

As Gloria was removed from the ambulance and wheeled into the emergency room, it was noticed that her skin appeared to have a strange sheen to it as though coated with a thin film of oil. One of the nurses present at the time described it as being "like you see on the ground at the gas station"

Some thirty-six minutes later as staff were working on her, she went into a full cardiac arrest. The emergency medical team swung into action. Nurse Suzan Kane, respiratory therapist Maureen Welch, and two other colleagues began the standard emergency procedure - Less than fifteen minutes later, the entire medical team, with one exception, had been rendered unconscious.

Foul odour

The sequence of bizarre events seems to have begun when Nurse Susan Kane withdrew a blood sample from Gloria. The blood was seen to contain visible crystals of a manilla-yellow colour. Then staff noticed a "strange smell", a "foul odour" (described variously as like ammonia or garlic), apparently emanating from the area of the puncture wound. The nurse taking the blood sample immediately passed out, and fell to the floor.

Dr. Julie Gorchynski, the Senior medical resident saw Nurse Kane collapse and went to her aid. Having made her comfortable, the doctor noticed that the source of the strange odour seemed to be to centered around the syringe. In an attempt to identify the weird smell, she "took a deep whiff" of the syringe and immediately passed out.

Within minutes, she was followed by Welch and two of the other nurses. The last one to succumb was Nurse Balderas. Dr. Humberto Ochoa who was also in attendance, was the only member of the team who was not affected.

The Aftermath

Whatever affected the emergency team was certainly not just a fainting fit. Dr Gorchynski spent a week in intensive care with muscle spazms and breathing difficulties as a result of her exposure to "the odour", and remained unwell even after her discharge, unable to draw full breaths and walking only with the aid of crutches. The blood circulation to her legs was also impaired, threatening to destroy the bones in her legs. She underwent surgery to save her knees on 13th April. Another strange symptom was Sleep Apnoea, a condition which causes the sufferer to simply stop breathing for periods of time whilst asleep (a condition which is believed may be responsible for "cot death syndrome").

Nurse Balderas did not escape unscathed either and was hospitalised for ten days with constant headaches, vomiting and incapacitating violent stomach pains - She too suffered with sleep apnoea.

Gloria Ramirez herself died shortly after the incident. The official cause of death was recorded as kidney failure due to metasticized cancer.

Surgical "Spacesuits"
Surgical "Spacesuits"

What could be the cause?

So, what could have caused the Toxic Lady's "deadly smell"? In an attempt to find out, a very special autopsy was carried out. A number of pathologists working in shifts of 30 minutes (followed by a twelve hour precautionary quarantine period in which they were observed for medical symptoms), made up the team.

They worked in air-tight "space suit" type garb equipped with breathing equipment and two-way radio communication. Paramedics monitored the entire procedure via a closed-curcuit TV system.

The official result was that death was caused by cancer induced liver failure. No signs of any toxins that could have been responsible for the emergency room events were discovered, and there was no explanation about the "yellow crystals" in the blood.

Organophosphates: Common but deadly
Organophosphates: Common but deadly

Toxic Lady - The theories

The "Toxic Lady" story has generated many theories about the incident ranging from the possible to the downright bizarre.

The human body can sometimes generate toxic fumes following the ingestion of strychnine, cyanide or organophosphates (pesticides and nerve gasses), however Gloria's blood was said not to have shown any trace of them. and the California Department of Food and Agriculture published a statement saying that "they knew of no organophosphate that could cause the kinds of things reported in that hospital"

Many conspiracies centered on the hospital. The Ramirez family themselves continued to insist that the fumes had in fact come from the hospital, not Gloria.

There were even suggetions that the hospital was the centre of an illicit street-drug manufacturing unit, that they stored their drugs in the infusion packs, and that somehow one of these packs was infused into Gloria - Most authorites dismiss this as pure fantasy.

Lawrence Livermore laboratories
Lawrence Livermore laboratories

The conspiracy theories were further fuelled when additional autopsies were prevented by the fact that the County had confiscated Gloria's body for several months (the Ramirez family had to sue to get her body returned), during which time it had been improperly stored and had badly decomposed.

The theory that is the most plausible was produced by the Lawrence Livermore laboratories and was based on the belief that Gloria had used DMSO dimethyl sulfoxide, a substance which is often rubbed on the body to relieve arthritic aches and pains.

They showed how (in theory anyway), the DMSO could possibly metabolise into something called dimethyl sulfone. The oxygen administered in the emergency room, could (if the temperature was low enough) cause the dimethyl sulfone to become dimethyl sulfate, a toxic compound. Poisoning with this compound could produce the symptoms that were noted in the emergency room. The "oily sheen" on Gloria's skin, they said, might well have been DMSO that she had rubbed on.

Certainly the above explnation needs a lot of "ifs" to make it work, but as things stand it's the nearest we can come to a logical explanation. Perhaps we will never know the real reason for the "Toxic Lady"


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  • Gaizy profile image

    Gaizy 5 years ago from Denbigh, North Wales, UK

    Thanks jennzie - They do say that truth is stranger than fiction.

  • jennzie profile image

    Jenn 5 years ago from Pennsylvania

    What a bizarre story. Your hubs are very interesting- I am now following you.

  • Gaizy profile image

    Gaizy 5 years ago from Denbigh, North Wales, UK

    @ mizjo - It's hard to believe that exposure to just the fumes from someones blood could have such drastic effects, but that seems to be what happened here.

  • mizjo profile image

    mizjo 5 years ago from New York City, NY

    The action of the authorities certainly gives credence to the conspiracy theory. Sounds so like a Robert Ludlum's Col. Dr. Jonathan Smith bioterrorism thriller.

  • profile image

    evelyn 5 years ago

    That was a horrible thing to grow threw as a kid. The women talked about as toxic lady was my mom...whom will always be remembered as an amazing women.

  • Gaizy profile image

    Gaizy 6 years ago from Denbigh, North Wales, UK

    Thanks New2011Mom - I always find stories like this a bit scary.

  • New 2011 Mom profile image

    New 2011 Mom 6 years ago from Pennsylvania, USA

    Your Hubs are always interesting. I love reading them I get the chance to.