Within 45 minutes of Gloria Ramirez being admitted to Riverside General Hospital, the ER was evacuated. Not only was the ER evacuated six people who initially treated Ramirez became sick.
Ramirez was admitted for respiratory distress after being diagnosed recently with late-stage cervical cancer; she was 31. It was February 19, 1994, when Ramirez was brought into the ER; what seemed like typical respiratory distress soon became deadly to those treating her.
Her blood pressure began to drop, and she was having difficulty breathing and was incoherent. Medications were being given to help her blood pressure, and nothing seemed to help; her vital signs continued to decline.
When the team went to defibrillate her after she went into cardiac arrest, the team noticed her body had an oily look to it and then smelled a fruity garlicky odor coming from her breath; however, it was not until the nurse went to draw her blood when it took an even darker turn.
Susan Kane, one of the nurses on the case, was removing her blood; she noticed a smell of ammonia, and her blood appeared to have manila color crystalized particles in the blood. After Susan drew the blood and handed them to the Physician, Julie Gorchynski, Nurse Susan fell to the floor.
She was removed from the room, and shortly after, doctor Julie too fell to the floor, then another staff member, Maureen Welch, fell to the floor. At this point, the hospital decided to evacuate the ER to the parking lot. Twenty-three people in the ER became sick, and five were hospitalized.
Unfortunately, Ramirez was pronounced dead at 8:50. By 11 pm, Department of Health and Human Services investigators arrived to examine her body, fully clothed in hazmat suits. Upon examination, they found nothing that would cause the staff to faint; after the team left the hospital, they had no explanation; her body was sealed in an aluminum casket and set for an autopsy.
It was determined that those who were within 2 feet of Ramirez were affected the worst. However, they were no closer to solving the mystery.
After conducting interviews, the health department determined that the workers suffered from mass hysteria. Gorchynski denied this, as a mass hysteria would not cause someone to be hospitalized and unable to walk for months. Julie Gorchynski was hospitalized and spent two weeks in intensive care, developing hepatitis and avascular necrosis in her knees.
The medical staff insisted a closer look be taken at Ramirez's case; Pat Grant took over the investigation. As the investigation continued, a researcher discovered high dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO) levels in Ramirez's blood.
DMSO was a topical pain reliever in the past; however, it was labeled as toxic in 1965. However, some still thought its properties were a cure-all and continued to use it, as the pure form found in hardware stores was sold as a degreaser—a much stronger concentration than the original creams used for pain in the '60s.
Upon further examination, Grant discovered that when DMSO is exposed to oxygen, the substance is converted to dimethyl sulfate DMSO2, not dimethyl sulfone, and oxygen changes how the product works.
When the vapor goes inside the body, it can cause delirium, paralysis, and convulsions, the symptoms the staff experienced that night Ramirez was admitted, dimethyl sulfate poisoning.
It would also explain why Ramirez's blood appeared to have something in it, as DMSO2 crystallizes at room temperature. As well as, when the team defibrillated Ramirez, it could have further converted DMSO2 into DMSO4, an even more toxic form. Yet Grant's theory was just a theory, yet many believe this is what happened and made the medical team ill.
"the most scientific explanation to date" and "beyond this theory, no credible explanation has ever been offered for the strange case of Gloria Ramirez.
Grant stated that it would also explain the garlic, fruity odor they noted, and the cream on the skin, and concluded that Ramirez was using DMSO on her skin to relieve her cancer pain. The family denied that Ramirez was using DMSO.
Unfortunately, when an independent pathologist examined her and autopsied, they could not fully assess her body as she was too decomposed. We know that Gloria did have terminal cervical cancer; other than that, it is all speculation as to what caused her blood to be toxic.
Ten weeks after her death on April 20, 1994, Gloria Ramirez was laid to rest at Olivewood Memorial Mark. Forever known as the ¨Toxic Lady¨, may she RIP.