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 Blood clot caused Via rider's death, police say

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PostSubject: Blood clot caused Via rider's death, police say   Blood clot caused Via rider's death, police say Icon_minitimeMon May 12, 2008 11:19 pm

Blood clot caused Via rider's death, police say

From Monday's Globe and Mail

May 12, 2008 at 4:04 AM EDT

TORONTO — A short-lived pandemic scare, one that caused a train to be quarantined last Friday, actually resulted from a sedentary passenger's fatal blood clot, police have told The Globe and Mail.

Brenda Buckley, a 43-year-old South African tourist travelling alone on a cross-Canada rail journey, died from a pulmonary embolism, authorities say. The condition, the worst-case outcome of a lesser malady known to travellers as deep-vein thrombosis, can result from protracted periods of sitting.

The condition has been known to arise on long-haul flights, but many observers are surprised it is being linked to rail travel. "This is not a condition Via [Rail] has ever encountered on any of its trains," Catherine Kaloutsky, a spokeswoman for the company, said last night. She said Via Rail doesn't warn passengers about the risk of thrombosis, but will review practices.

The rarity of the condition on train journeys may have contributed to the case's initial aura of inexplicability, which fuelled the infectious-disease speculation that garnered global headlines.

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The Ontario Provincial Police say a host of factors conspired to cause police to fear the worst. Ms. Buckley's death while travelling through Northern Ontario on Friday coincided with another passenger being airlifted to hospital after complaining of a severe respiratory problem. Five other passengers were also complaining of flu-like symptoms.

By Saturday, it was clear that all of the cases had arisen independently. Authorities issued a statement saying the five passengers were "afflicted by a common flu virus," the airlifted woman had a history of breathing difficulties, and that Ms. Buckley had "died of natural causes."

Yesterday, The Globe asked an investigating OPP officer to elaborate on the kinds of natural causes that could kill a 43-year-old. The death was "due to a pulmonary embolism," Detective Sergeant Michael Pilon responded.

He explained that after an autopsy in Sudbury, a pathologist told him that the condition can result from someone "sitting in a car for a long period of time, or, in this case, sitting in a train."

Little is known about Ms. Buckley, whose age had been estimated by some fellow passengers as about 20 years older than that listed in her passport. She had provided the travel agency with the name of a sister in South Africa as next of kin. "It came as a shock to the family," said Det. Sgt. Pilon, who notified relatives.

The South African tourist had booked her Canadian trip through Trafalgar Tours, a company that promotes the "breathtaking scenery" of the Rockies, including their "snow-capped peaks, hanging glaciers, pounding waterfalls and surging rivers."

Ms. Buckley had already spent several days on a train before crossing into Alberta from British Columbia last week. She boarded another train in Jasper, and had nearly completed the two-day trip to Sudbury when she began complaining of shortness of breath. "It was a very sudden event," Det. Sgt. Pilon said.

In the past, airline agents have been forced to deal with similar incidents. "It may be we will see something like that two, three, four times a year with air traffic," said William Lucas, a coroner for the province of Ontario. In an interview yesterday, he said he has never heard of any such case arising on a train. He expressed surprise, given that there is "a greater freedom of mobility on the train than there is on an airplane."

Blood circulation is often dependant on the mechanics of walking, Dr. Lucas said, explaining that active leg muscles set about "squeegeeing, like toothpaste, your blood back into circulation."

Long periods of sitting cause the blood to pool in the legs and possibly coagulate into clots. Should a clot become dislodged from the legs and travel up to arteries that feed the lungs, it can spell disaster.

A funeral home in Timmins, Ont., was making arrangements to send Ms. Buckley's body back to South Africa.
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