Inquest begins into death of Watson Lake woman

The inquest into the death of a 60-year-old Watson Lake woman began yesterday in Whitehorse. Mary Johnny died of a bowel obstruction on Aug. 9, 2012 after originally being diagnosed as having alcohol withdrawal.

The inquest into the death of a 60-year-old Watson Lake woman began yesterday in Whitehorse.

Mary Johnny died of a bowel obstruction on Aug. 9, 2012 after originally being diagnosed as having alcohol withdrawal.

She was admitted to the Watson Lake Hospital on Aug. 3 and medevaced to the Whitehorse General Hospital on Aug. 8, where she died the following day.

It’s the second coroner’s inquest this year into the death of someone following treatment at the Watson Lake Hospital.

Teresa Ann Scheunert died less than two months before Johnny did in 2012.

Scheunert went to the hospital with severe back pain and later died from a toxic mix of medications. The death was ruled accidental.

The inquest into Scheunert’s death was held in June.

The inquests were originally called in Nov. 2013 by the Yukon’s chief coroner, Kirsten Macdonald.

Yesterday, six jury members heard testimony from Johnny’s mother, Eva Johnny, and her son, George Morgan.

They also heard from several nurses who worked shifts during Johnny’s final days at the Watson Lake Hospital.

Eva Johnny said she visited her daughter at the hospital and heard her complain about stomach pain.

Johnny said she tried to convince her daughter to seek treatment in Vancouver or Edmonton, but she didn’t want to leave.

“She got mad at me,” she said.

Johnny’s son, George Morgan, took the stand and told the court his mother was a “raging alcoholic.”

“She started the day reaching for the bottle,” he said.

“She was a heavy drinker for many years. Mom would run herself down and then go to the hospital once a year for respite.”

In early Aug. 2012, Morgan said he visited his mother at the hospital.

He’d just started a job in Whitehorse and was commuting between both towns.

After Johnny was medevaced to Whitehorse General, Morgan visited her there, too.

He said he had been shocked to discover her health had deteriorated so much in so little time, believing she was just going through another respite visit.

Lawyers also questioned Morgan about his relationship with doctor Said Secerbegovic, his father-in-law. Morgan is married to Dr. Tanis Secerbegovic, who also works at the hospital.

Morgan spoke highly of Dr. Said Secerbegovic and said his mother had known him for 35 years.

“He always has story after story about his patients and it’s all positive,” Morgan said.

When asked if he believed racial discrimination had played a role in his mother’s treatment at Watson Lake Hospital, or her death, Morgan said no.

When asked if his mother had mentioned she was receiving lesser care at the hospital, Morgan said no.

He was also questioned about his time spent in Watson Lake.

He answered he’s only been living there full-time since Sept. 2013, but had lived there on several occasions in the past.

Because of his time spent away from the community, he was asked how he knew about his mother’s daily drinking habits.

“I’d visit her almost every day,” he said, referring to when he lived in Watson Lake.

According to nurses’ notes, Johnny described herself as a binge drinker, and not a daily drinker.

Several nurses were contacted via telephone or video link for their testimony.

Michelle McFall was a registered nurse at the Watson Lake Hospital in Aug. 2012. She said she knew Johnny well and worked three shifts at the hospital that week.

She explained how a tube had been inserted into Johnny’s mouth in order to help decompress the air in her stomach.

The tube drained a thick, brown substance from Johnny’s stomach but her vital signs remained stable, she said.

McFall said symptoms from alcohol withdrawal could be similar to those of bowel obstruction.

She also said she was aware that Johnny had previously been admitted to the hospital for alcohol withdrawal.

Nurse Tracey Nolan testified Johnny wasn’t pleased with having the tube down her throat and wanted it removed.

“I’m going to pull it out,” Nolan quoted Johnny as saying in her notes that week.

“I’m 60 years old and you won’t tell me what do to.”

B.C. coroner Norm Leibel has been appointed to preside over the inquest.

It’s his job to rule on things like witnesses and evidence, as well as gather recommendations to prevent similar deaths in the future.

The inquest continues until Friday.

– With files from Ashley Joannou

Contact Myles Dolphin at