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Secret cocaine surgery at St Augustine Private Hospital

By Anna Ramdass anna.ramdass@trinidadexpress.com

A surgeon and staff at the St Augustine Private Hospital were yes­terday questioned by police, in con­­nection with surgery conducted on a man from whose abdomen 17 cocaine pellets were removed.

The Express reported exclusively last Saturday that a private hospital had failed to contact the authorities after the surgery was performed and that the narcotic was handed back to the man.

National security sources yesterday confirmed to the Express that staff at the hospital were questioned.

The Express understands officers of the Organised Crime Narcotics and Forearms Bureau (OCNFB) are investigating the matter, under the supervision of acting Senior Superintendent Ainsley Garrick.

Hospital staff were said to be cooperating with the police.

On December 21, 2013, the man underwent a laparotomy—a surgical incision into the abdominal cavity—where the cocaine was found meticulously packaged into pellets.

The surgery, which started at 5 p.m., lasted for close to three hours and was conducted by a team of five—a surgeon leading three nurses and an anaesthetist.

The man developed sepsis because the cocaine pellets had perforated his bowels. He was transferred to the Eric Williams Medical Scien­ces Complex (EWMSC) in Mt Hope where the Express visited and confirmed he was hospitalised up to last Friday.

During his contribution to the Bail Bill last night in Parliament, Diego Martin Central MP Dr Amery Browne questioned why the police had not yet moved to take action on the matter.

He said he was informed as of yesterday morning, there was no move to talk to the doctor and staff in question.

“Mr Speaker, I have been informed that as of this morning, the 10th of January, 2014, the clinic in question, sources indicate it is the St Augustine Hospital, has not been interviewed by the police of Trinidad and Tobago,” said Browne.

The Express learned police visi­ted the St Augustine hospital yesterday afternoon.

Browne noted National Security Minister Gary Griffith’s comments that people need to trust the police and make reports.

“Mr Speaker, this requires no further illumination, in terms of triggering a proper investigation,” said Browne.

He questioned whether there was one law for the “well-placed” in this country and another law for others.

“If this was a humble citizen who found cocaine on the side of the road and failed to report it, I suspect they would have been jailed already, sitting in jail,” he said.

Browne commended the person who photographed the cocaine pellets, despite being advised by the surgeon to not do so.

“Mr Speaker, this tears at our social fabric, and you may wonder why it is affecting me this way because I view this as a very serious circumstance,” said Browne.

“You had innocent citizens who woke up that morning, said their prayers and went to work at a clinic ....who found themselves, when they reach back at home to their families, found themselves looking back at the day and realising that they may have played a role in one of the most evil industries on the face of humanity, the manufacture, exportation, marketing, smuggling, distribution and use of a drug called cocaine,” said Browne.

Browne noted the silence of Government ministers on the matter as well as the Medical Board of Trinidad and Tobago.

“I have to ask the question: where are we going as a country, and why we would be surprised that people are falling like flies and people are not trusting the authorities with reports because sometimes, they can predict the response or the lack there­of,” said Browne.

Browne said he was hoping there would be a good outcome but stressed the matter requires urgent and forthright investigation and probing so the people can be assured that justice exists in this country.

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