E-PUB: Death in the Southwest Case Study
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E-PUB: Death in the Southwest Case Study

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by Randolph H. Pherson
September 2020

On 14 May 1993 in the Four Corners area of New Mexico, a young former track star collapsed on the way to his fiancée’s funeral and was rushed to the Gallup Medical Center emergency room. He died a few hours later. State medical investigators
performed autopsies on both the man and his fiancée, who had died five days earlier. They noted similarities in their cases: flulike symptoms of fever, coughing, and chills with quick progression to acute respiratory distress and death as their lungs filled with fluid. Their infant daughter also exhibited the same symptoms but was not as
severely affected. None of the medical personnel involved in treating the patients were believed to have become infected.

• What caused a presumably healthy young Navajo couple to die suddenly?
• What initial assumptions were made about the cause of death?
• What alternative explanations should be considered?
• What information would best help identify the cause of death?

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