Two days later, Dunn was dead.
An autopsy found the cause of death was rhabdomylosis, a muscle wasting caused by a crushing injury. Christchurch emergency specialist Dr Michael Ardagh, who treated victims of the February 2011 earthquake, said what happened to Dunn is known as “crush injury syndrome.”
The phenomenon is why medical experts advise people rescuing someone trapped by a heavy object not to lift it off them rapidly.
Once the crushing force is released, a rush of potassium may stream to the heart, causing it to fail. Or, myoglobin rushes to the kidneys, which can’t process the protein–causing that organ to fail.
In Dunn’s case, her heart rate suddenly elevated and her blood-oxygen levels dropped below normal. Although her vital signs then improved, they later deteriorated. Her heart rate and breathing quickened, and bruising to her inner legs appeared.
She was flagged for an urgent transfer to intensive care at Wellington Hospital, but no service was available until the next morning. She passed away later in the day.
A specialist’s report to the inquest said while Dunn’s “shock” was underestimated and a different outcome was “theoretically” possible had Dunn been transferred earlier, it was not assured. There was also no way of knowing whether she might have survived had she been rescued earlier.
A Quiet Woman Who Loved Her Cat
Rozanne Martin, the neighbor who first discovered her, remembered her friend as a quiet woman who loved her cat.
“I knew her for the two years she lived there and she was just a lovely lady. She never moaned about anything. She was very, very friendly, never said a bad word about anything. With her, she was always looking for the good.”
Martin has kindly adopted Tinker. She says that in the days after Dunn’s death, the cat would tear down the driveway, thinking her late mom was about to arrive.
It was heartbreaking, Martin said. “I still think about her a lot. It was terrible.