During the third day of a public inquest into the death of a Port Alberni teen, doctors in Victoria explained how 18-year-old Jocelyn George died of drug-induced myocarditis, or inflammation of the heart muscle.
George was airlifted from West Coast General Hospital (WCGH) in Port Alberni to Royal Jubilee Hospital in Victoria on June 24, 2016. She had spent the previous day and night in police custody in Port Alberni. By the morning, she was taken to WCGH with extremely low blood sugar. Doctors were unable to get her blood pressure.
Dr. Peter Sherk told the court on June 23, 2021 that George arrived at the intensive care unit (ICU) in Victoria at around 3 p.m. and her condition was “extremely advanced” by the time she arrived.
“When she got to us, it was obvious immediately that she was critically ill,” said Sherk, speaking to the court at the Capitol Theatre in Port Alberni via videoconferencing.
George’s blood pressure was very low and at this point she was on full life support with mechanical ventilation. Sherk said that doctors administered fluids and medications to raise her blood pressure. They ran an ultrasound of her heart and found “significant injury” had reduced its pumping strength.
“We could see that she was in shock,” said Sherk. “Her limbs were cool and her skin was mottled.”
Sherk looked after her for about three hours, during which time she remained “extremely unstable.” She was transferred to the care of Dr. Alexandra Mihailovic at around 6 p.m. Mihailovic said that George went into cardiac arrest shortly after 7 p.m. Despite attempts to revive her with CPR, George was declared deceased at 7:20 that evening.
Dr. Jason Morin, a forensic pathologist who conducted the postmortem examination, told the court that he determined George’s death was caused by drug-induced myocarditis. He said this was most likely due to the toxic effects of methamphetamine and cocaine, which were found in her blood at the time of the autopsy.
“Methamphetamine and cocaine are stimulant drugs that act in the body like adrenaline,” said Morin. “They cause effects on your cardiovascular system. It also causes constriction of blood vessels. In this case, the squeezing of the blood vessels happened to such a degree in the heart that it caused blood to not be able to flow properly in the heart.”
This caused damage to the heart muscle cells, enough that the heart could no longer function and pump blood to the rest of the body.
Morin emphasized that this was an “acute” case, rather than a chronic problem—something that had developed over the last day. Myocarditis is a “fairly rare” result of methamphetamine and cocaine use, he said, and George was not presenting many symptoms until her condition was in an advanced stage, which made it difficult to diagnose her.
“She likely had this brewing myocarditis that her body was able to keep up with, then she probably crashed relatively quickly,” he said. “At that point, she was already in a lot of trouble.”
When questioned about her low blood sugar, Morin said that this was most likely her body’s response to the myocarditis, and not related to her food and water intake while she was in police custody.
“Simply not eating does not cause blood glucose to fall to such a dangerous level,” he said. “It is most commonly seen in diabetics that need insulin. It is also seen in someone who is critically ill.”
The inquest will continue at the Capitol Theatre this week. Presiding coroner Margaret Janzen and a jury will hear evidence from witnesses under oath to determine the facts surrounding George’s death. At the end of the inquest, the jury will have the opportunity to make recommendations aimed at preventing deaths under similar circumstances.