The St. Bernard Parish coroner has ruled that a 19-year-old Chalmette woman who was found dead last month in her cell at the parish jail likely died of a blood clot in her lungs.
Coroner Bryan Bertucci said Wednesday that Nimali Henry’s death appeared to be the result of a clot that he believes traveled from a leg to her lungs.
Henry’s family said the finding supported their contention that she died because she was denied needed medication in jail.
Bertucci said that was not for him to decide because he did not know what drugs she was taking before she was jailed.
The FBI is investigating Henry’s death.
She died April 1 after she was found unresponsive on the floor of her cell at about 8 a.m., not long after a shift change among jail personnel, the Sheriff’s Office said. Officials tried to revive her, but she was pronounced dead a short time later. She had been jailed for nearly two weeks following an arrest over a domestic dispute.
Bertucci, who is also under contract to provide medical services at the jail, said Henry appeared to have suffered from a number of medical problems, including kidney and liver ailments and a blood disorder.
Her family has said in interviews that she had recently been diagnosed with thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura, a rare platelet disease that can cause blood clots to form. They said that, despite repeated pleas, she was denied her medication in jail.
“I tried to let them know about how sick she was, and they wouldn’t listen to me,” Deshawna Henry said Wednesday after learning of the coroner’s finding. She said she spent the nearly two weeks that her sister was jailed trying to convey to prison officials that her sister required medication.
“The mere fact that it started from her legs and went up to her lungs, it had to take some time to travel,” she said, adding that she believes her sister’s death “could’ve been avoided.”
Through a spokesman, Sheriff James Pohlmann declined to comment Wednesday.
Henry was arrested March 21 following reports of a disturbance involving her and the father of her 4-month-old daughter at a home in the 1800 block of Suzi Drive. She was booked with disturbing the peace, simple battery and unauthorized entry, records show.
After the birth of her daughter, Nimali Henry was hospitalized for more than a month, her sister said, including about two weeks spent at the St. Bernard Parish Hospital before she was transferred to Ochsner Medical Center, where she stayed for several more weeks.
After reviewing her medical files, Bertucci said that Nimali Henry was prescribed birth control after her hospital stay, which he said could have increased her risk of suffering a blood clot. “My own opinion is that if she was on birth control, that the birth control probably was the main thing” that caused the clot, he said, though he noted that he was unsure which prescriptions she was taking.
Bertucci said Nimali Henry’s overall health issues could have contributed to her death.
“People don’t usually die from (blood clots),” he said, and “young people will usually be fine.” But he said Henry had “a lot of other medical problems,” which made her “more susceptible.”
“She had some problems that made her body not perfect. Those things can lead to abnormalities,” he added. “Would they lead to a clot? They just increase the risk, because the liver’s not working as it’s supposed to.”
Dr. Amy Young, a professor at LSU Health Sciences Center New Orleans and chairwoman of the obstetrics and gynecology department, said it’s “very rare” for a young woman taking oral contraceptives to experience a blood clot, especially one that spreads. She said that potential threat is “not something that we consider even a prohibitively high risk.”
“Most of the time in these cases, the patient will retain the clot in their leg, and it’s only a certain amount of those clots that will go up and form a pulmonary embolism,” a blockage in an artery in the lungs, she said.
Last week, parish and federal officials confirmed that the FBI has taken over the investigation into Nimali Henry’s death. Marjorie Esman, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana, said the fact that the FBI had gotten involved in probing whether the death violated federal civil rights law was an “indication that they’re concerned.”
“It doesn’t happen often, and it’s an indication that they have some serious concerns about the facility,” Esman said. “The FBI doesn’t step in every time somebody dies in a prison.”
The night Henry was arrested, sheriff’s deputies responded to a reported disturbance and determined through interviews that she had arrived at the house uninvited and started demanding that she be allowed to see her daughter, according to an incident report. Her child’s father, Nicholas Conners, 18, was visiting there with a woman, Chelsea Lefebvre, 18, who lived at the residence.
Conners told Henry that it wasn’t a good time to see the girl, and when Lefebvre tried to intervene, the two women got into a shoving match, the report said. Conners eventually separated the two.
Henry’s bail was set at $25,000, which her family has said was more than they could afford.
Follow Richard Thompson on Twitter, @rthompsonMSY.