The Rev. Michael Lewis delivers last rites to patients at University Medical Center amid coronavirus in El Paso. El Paso Times
El Paso nurse Karla Dominguez, who died just over a month ago after testing positive for COVID-19, has not been reported as a coronavirus death by El Paso public health officials even though her death certificate lists the disease as the “underlying cause.”
Dominguez died of brain bleeding with the underlying cause of COVID-19 pneumonia, according to her death certificate, of which her father provided a photo copy to the El Paso Times.
Dominguez was a pediatric intensive care nurse for about five years at Providence Children’s Hospital.
She died April 19 at The Hospitals of Providence Memorial Campus, of which the children’s hospital is a part, in West Central El Paso.
“I’m pretty sure the cause of her death was due to COVID-19,” said retired general practitioner Dr. Carlos Dominguez, the nurse’s father. “I think she got it at the hospital” when she was working, he said.
Dominguez, 33, is not listed among the 58 COVID-19 deaths reported by the El Paso Department of Public Health as of May 22. The youngest people listed among the deaths are four people in their 40s, according to health department data.
She tested positive for COVID-19 after being admitted to the hospital April 7, her father has reported.
COVID-19 is an infectious disease caused by a newly discovered coronavirus, according to the World Health Organization.
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Officials with The Hospitals of Providence declined in April, after Dominquez’s death, to talk about the nurse’s death, except to say her death made them heartbroken.
Providence officials also noted that Dominguez did not care for COVID-19 patients.
Health department officials said they could not comment on Dominguez’s case because of patient privacy requirements under the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA, said Laura Cruz-Acosta, a city spokesperson.
The El Paso Times then sent more general questions about how the health department determines if a person will be reported as a COVID-19 death; and specifically asked if a person would be classified as a COVID-19 death if the death certificate lists the “underlying cause” of death as COVID-19 pneumonia.
In an emailed statement, Dr. Hector Ocaranza, the city-county health authority, said:
“We compile information from the attending physician, from available medical records, death certificate, and information from the medical examiner to properly classify a death as COVID-related or COVID-associated.”
He provided no other information.
Dominguez sought medical help several times at Providece hospitals and urgent care center for constant migraines, or severe headaches, she was having in the days before she was admitted to Providence Memorial April 7, her father has told the El Paso Times.
The constant headaches caused her to call in sick to work around April 1, and she never returned, her father has said.
Headaches are one of the symptoms of COVID-19, and some recent news reports and studies have linked COVID-19 to brain problems.
Dominguez’s death certificate listed the “immediate cause” of her death as intraparenchymal cerebral bleeding, and the “underlying cause” of death as COVID-19 pneumonia.
Intraparenchymal is defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary as “situated or occurring within the parenchyma (the essential and distinctive tissue) of an organ.” The organ in this case is the brain because the certificate lists cerebral, which means “of, or relating to the brain.”
That simply means bleeding in the brain, Dr. Dominguez said.
“They (doctors) told me she was having bleeding in the brain before her death,” Dominguez said. “They weren’t sure what caused it.”
He hasn’t talked to the doctors who took care of his daughter since she died, he said.
But about a week after his daughter’s death, Dominguez said he read online reports about COVID-19 causing brain problems.
That helped convince him his daughter’s death was caused by COVID-19, he said.
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