By Jake Beleski
A Carterton woman’s death was the result of getting her foot stuck in a tree while trying to rescue her cat, a coroner has found.
Gaylene Dunn died on December 21, 2014 – aged 54 – due to rhabdomyolysis complicating a soft tissue injury after her foot was stuck in a cabbage tree for around two hours at a property on Booth St.
Rose Martin, a neighbour of Ms Dunn, found her after she heard banging coming from a neighbouring property at around 5pm on December 19.
She initially called out for the person to “cut it out”, and thought the response she got was the person being smart to her.
The banging continued for about an hour and a half, at which point she decided to find out what was going on.
She eventually found Ms Dunn with her foot wedged between two branches of a cabbage tree.
The noise had come from Ms Dunn banging on a corrugated iron fence in an attempt to get help.
The trapped woman was freed by Ms Martin and another neighbour before paramedics arrived.
When examined the paramedics found Ms Dunn was conscious, alert and her temperature was normal.
Her heart rate then became significantly elevated and the level of oxygen in her blood dropped below normal.
Initially paramedics were considering leaving her at home, but after her heart rate began to race they transported her to Wairarapa Hospital.
Ms Dunn arrived at Wairarapa Hospital at 9.51pm, and her vital signs were assessed at 10pm.
There was an untimed entry recording vital signs improving and then at 11.30pm an entry where vital signs were deteriorating.
Ms Dunn was noted to be short of breath with a fast heart rate and bruising to her legs.
At 1.30am the following morning her condition worsened and Wellington Hospital ICU was contacted with a view to an urgent air transfer to Wellington Hospital.
The retrieval team was already tasked for another transfer, and Ms Dunn was instead transferred at 7.30am on December 20.
Over the next 24 hours her condition continued to deteriorate, and she died at about 3pm on December 21.
After her death, her sister raised the issue of the inadequacy and timeliness of the treatment offered to Ms Dunn at Wairarapa Hospital.
A specialist emergency physician’s report found that a different outcome was “theoretically possible” had Ms Dunn been transferred to Wellington Hospital earlier, but it was “by absolutely no means assured”.
Coroner Tim Scott said although it was likely there would have been a different outcome had Ms Dunn been “rescued” from the tree much earlier – about the time the banging noise started – no one was responsible for that not happening.
A spokeswoman from Wairarapa DHB said they would not comment on coroners’ findings.
Cat was her world
Ms Dunn was raised in Greytown, the daughter of Wally and Huia Dunn.
Rose Martin was the neighbour that heard the banging and eventually located Ms Dunn in the tree, and said yesterday that initially she thought nothing of the noise.
“For a couple of hours it went on. She was calling out and kicking the tin fence and going ‘oi oi oi’, and of course I took no notice, but then she called my name and I clicked straight away.”
Ms Martin lived two houses down from the victim in a three-flat block, and said the incident had left a lot of people shaken.
“It was a shock and it was very sad.
“When she left she must have gone into shock, that’s what we put it down to.
“She never moaned, she was always happy and she was very fit.”
Ms Dunn was found wearing one gumboot – on the foot that was stuck – which had become completely wedged in the gap between the branches.
“She only had one gumboot on so she must’ve been kicking the fence with her bare foot.”
Eventually, with the help of another neighbour, they were able to free Ms Dunn from the tree.
She had told them the reason she was stuck was because her cat, Tinker, had climbed the tree, Ms Martin said.
“He was a wild cat but she loved him – she would get home about 5pm most days and feed him.”
After being rescued Ms Dunn had not wanted to go to hospital, but her rescuers had encouraged her to go with the paramedics.
They had no idea that less than two days later she would be dead.
“She walked to the ambulance and hopped in – she didn’t want to go but we said she should.
“It was really sad, she was a very good friend and never said a bad thing about anyone.”
Ms Martin had taken it upon herself to look after Tinker since Ms Dunn had passed away.
“I used to see Gaylene every single day.
“She always popped in and then she got herself a kitten and she was so happy. Tinker was her world.”
What is rhabdomyolysis
In “lay” terms rhabdomyolysis is a condition where skeletal muscle breaks down rapidly, and it is often the result of a crush injury or strenuous exercise.
According to an online medical journal it results from the death of muscle fibres and release of their contents into the bloodstream, which can lead to serious complications such as kidney failure.
This means the kidneys cannot remove waste and concentrated urine.
Prompt treatment often results in a good outcome – but in rare cases – such as the case of Ms Dunn, rhabdomyolysis can cause death.