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submitted by George Poulos on 25.05.2004

Archie Kalokerinos - Extracts from Chapter 21: Medical Pioneer of the 20th Century

Archie Kalokerinos - Extracts from Chapter 21: Medical Pioneer of the 20th Century
Copyright (0000) Archie Kalokerinos

Extracts from Chapter 21:

Medical Pioneer of the 20th Century by Dr. Archie Kalokerinos

For a review of the book, see Culture, subsection, Bibliography.

The Trial of Nancy Young

…Evelyn was born on February 23, 1968. Superficially, like most Aboriginal infants, she was healthy. When discharged to the reserve she weighed just over eight pounds. Nobody bothered to check the environment to which Evelyn was going. Nobody bothered to find out if Nancy could afford to feed her. Nobody bothered about anything, but Evelyn was sent to suffer for a crime she had not committed - being born into a world that would not care for her. But the fact is that this care could have been provided. The machinery was there - health workers and officials; money was available for welfare. The crime was that this was not provided. Of course, it could be argued that this was Nancy’s responsibility but think of her situation - developed over the years. Think of the entire Aboriginal problem. Was Nancy responsible?

In retrospect I know that Evelyn, at birth, even though she appeared to be healthy, was not. Because of her poor diet her Vitamin C status was almost certainly low. Her immune responses, like that of almost all Aboriginal infants, must have been incapable of dealing with the insults about to be hurled at them.…

…From the time of discharge from hospital as a newborn Evelyn was fed on a brand of powdered milk known as ‘Sunshine Milk’. This was never intended to be a food for infants and was not fortified with vitamins. However, it was a ‘standard’ food for infants in many parts of Australia. Problems only arose when vitamins were not added. Nancy had not been told to do this.…

…When she was discharged, [from hospital] her mother was advised to feed her with vegetables, potato and pumpkin.…In actual fact, even though Evelyn was so young, such a diet, up to a point, may have suited her - but only if she was a healthy infant. Furthermore, Nancy did not have money to buy vegetables.

At this stage nothing was done to assist Evelyn or advise Nancy how feedings should be prepared. No arrangements were made for a follow-up. Nothing was said about the low weight gain or the fact that even while in hospital weight gain had been almost zero.

Thus, for two months, Evelyn ran the gauntlet of reserve conditions, poor diet and infections. It is a miracle that she survived as long as she did.…she died at 4am on July 9. She had been treated with antibiotics, both penicillin and chloromycetin. Her temperature was elevated for the 24 hours prior to her death.…

…[from the post-mortem report] ‘On external examination there was extensive bruising over the sacrum, the lower back, about the ankles, wrists, shoulders and on the right side of the chest. There was a puncture mark on the right side of the chest posteriorly where a subcutaneous drip was inserted. On incising the bruised areas bruising was evident in the subcutaneous tissues. Examination of the cranial cavity was normal. On macroscopic examination there was patchy bronchopneumonia on both lower lobes of the lungs. Subsequent microscopic examination showed an acute interstitial pneumonitis. This was an acute pneumonia. The pericardium, heart and blood vessels were normal. The stomach was small and pale. It contained a small amount of milky material. There was a marked absence of fat from the mesenteric and retroperitoneal tissues. They are tissues fixed to the intestines and in front of the muscles of the back. The liver appeared enlarged and pale. The other organs were normal. The immediate cause of death was bronchopneumonia. Contributing to her death was her state of malnutrition.’…

…The Defender [at Nancy Young’s manslaughter trial] did his homework well. Sometimes I think that it was the hand of God that led him to check the literature on Aboriginal infant deaths. He found many references to malnutrition, neglect, ignorance, socioeconomic problems and so forth. He also found the letter that I had written in response to the advice received from my brother, James.

The Defender could now see that Evelyn might have died from causes not associated with criminal neglect or maltreatment. It was possible that Evelyn had scurvy! And that is why I received that famous phone call. A few days later I was reading transcripts of the court hearings.

I sat down to a session of horror, grief, disbelief and sorrow. I cried as I thought of other Aboriginal infant deaths and of infant deaths all over the world.

As I read the reports I relived my experiences with Aborigines. I visualised the days when Europeans first came to Australia and destroyed a culture so beautiful they could not understand. I thought about the diseases we introduced, the terror of the massacres and the way we took and violated the sanctity of the land. I thought of the children who died in my arms and I thought of those who survived. I remembered Billy Pepper, the deserts, the legends. All this I thought about and I knew how Nancy must have been suffering.

She was, undoubtedly, Aboriginal in her thinking. Her associates like ‘Ten Cent Jackson’ the rainmaker were the last of the traditional Aborigines in the area. Her desire to live in her ‘tribal home’ and not move to a more tolerable place was another demonstration of her Aboriginal sensitivity. This meant that Nancy was subjected to the inability to fit into the European society. She had a feeling of hopelessness and the desire to escape to the comfort of alcoholic binges. All Australians, I felt, should weep for Nancy - not charge her with manslaughter.

The medical reports were a litany of horror. To me, the facts were clear. Evelyn had been fed for months on a diet of unfortified Sunshine Milk. Her recurrent colds (demonstrated by a running nose) and bouts of diarrhoea would have used up what little reserve of Vitamin C she possessed. Even before birth Evelyn was deficient because her mother’s diet was deficient.

Failure to thrive was, therefore, inevitable. If Nancy had been given correct advice concerning feedings after Evelyn’s first admission to hospital, and if suitable welfare had been arranged, Evelyn would not have died.

During Evelyn’s last days, if a diagnosis of scurvy had been made instead of a diagnosis of maltreatment, the outlook may have been different.

My evidence, case histories and colour slides, was presented. My opinion was asked for and recorded. But it was a waste of time. Nancy was found guilty. I watched as she was escorted away to jail. But it was not just to any jail. It was to Boggo Road Jail where her mother died while she was serving a sentence for the murder of the man with whom she was living. To incarcerate an Aboriginal person near the spirit of a dead relative is the ultimate hell. I tried to persuade the authorities to take Nancy to another jail. They did not listen. Nancy was psychologically destroyed.…

Dr. Kalokerinos’ book is full of such stories.

From Australasian College of Nutritional and Environmental Medicine, website; see,

http://www.acnem.org

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