By Duncan Mlanjira
A forensic autopsy done by expert Dr. Charles Dzamalala has concluded that 23-year-old Kottana Maria Chidyaonga of Lilongwe did not die after being bitten by a snake but rather from acute poisoning after consuming Termik.
In his assessment, Dzamalala says based on the circumstances surrounding this death, this incidence of acute poisoning is most probably due to a homicidal act rather than suicidal or accident act.
“This death was from unnatural. It was due to generalized haemolysis following acute poisoning with a pesticide called Termik, an organophosphate compound that is found in many hardware/flea market shops in the country.
“In humans, Termik disables the central nervous system and also leads to haemolysis. Both these actions are lethal.
“The story of the snakebite lacks scientific evidence and it is therefore best ignored, as a typical snakebite wound is visibly fresh, leads to swelling from a quarter of an hour after the bite and takes specific shapes (arc for non-venomous bites and linear or otherwise by venomous bites).
“The alleged snakebite wound on the body of late Kottana Maria Chidyaonga lacked all these classical supporting features on the skin and surface both grossly and microscopically,” writes Dzamalala in his comment/opinion.
The story on the death of Kottana started circulating on Saturday, January 4, alleging that whilst at a party she had taken off her shoes and left them outside the home of the party’s host.
As they left, she put on her shoes not realizing that a snake was hiding inside one of them and she got bitten.
But in Dzamalala’s report, information made available at the time of the autopsy comprised a verbal narrative from Kottana’s relatives and CID Police officers from Lilongwe Police Station that told of a different story.
It is reported that Kottana knocked off from her workplace in City Centre at around 9pm on Friday, January 3 was picked by one of her friends, Diana Bhagwanji to her place at Area 11 where they are reported to have spent some time there before relocating to the home of Kottana’s boyfriend Timmy Mtilo at Area 3 at around 11pm.
It is further reported that the three agreed to go to a pub in town for a Friday night outing but as they walked out of the house, late Kottana is alleged to have stepped on a snake on the veranda of the house which bit her.
“Immediately after being bitten by the snake [which the security guard eventually killed], she reportedly felt itching on the inner/medial aspect of the right foot,” says Dzamalala’s report.
“She later reported to be experiencing light-headiness as they left the house compound in the Area 3 home.”
Her two friends are reported to have rushed her to Polyclinic within Area 3 Township where they arrived at around midnight but Dzamalala says it is not clear what exactly was administered to her at this clinic “as efforts to get access to the medical records proved futile”.
She then began having convulsions that prompted the clinician on duty to refer them to Kamuzu’s Central Hospital (KCH) but it is believed she died on her way there because efforts to resuscitate her at KCH failed.
“The attending clinician a KCH, however, became suspicious with the death, as she could not convince herself that there was a snakebite wound on late Kottana’s foot.
“She, therefore, asked Timmy and Diana to bring the snake, which had reportedly been killed, to the hospital in the night.
“The snake was indeed brought to the hospital and a cursory search on the body of late Kottana for a related snakebite wound was still unsuccessful,” Dzamalala says.
Being a mysterious and suspicious death, the matter was then reported to the Lilongwe Police Station by her family who, together with the police requested for a forensic postmortem examination to establish exact cause and mode of death.
The autopsy was done at KCH mortuary in the presence CID police officers and two of the family members.
Dzamalala reports that he examined the following body systems — cardiovascular, respiratory, gastrointestinal, genitourinary and musculoskeletal — all of which there was no traces of decomposition.
He then took several specimens for testing whose first phase was to establish poisoning through agricultural pesticides as commonly encountered in Malawi.
In the event that it concludes poisoning through agricultural pesticides “then the rest of the tests would be abandoned, as this was the scenario with the strongest index of suspicion”.
Findings of the tests included the haemolysed blood; no evidence of traumatic injury in any part of the body; no evidence of pregnancy; lack of evidence of a wound that is consistent with a snake bite and the laboratory evidence of acute poisoning with Termik, a poisonous substance of the Organophosphate group.