Inquest into Teresa Scheunert's death underway in Whitehorse

A coroner's inquest into the death of 47-year-old Teresa Scheunert got underway in Whitehorse this week, with the proceedings broadcast on closed-circuit television to people in Watson Lake.

Proceedings broadcast in Watson Lake via closed-circuit television

Teresa Scheunert is shown here with her daughter Crystal Thomas. Scheunert's death at the Watson Lake hospital is the subject of a coroner's inquest this week. (Scheunert family)

A coroner's inquest into the death of 47-year-old Teresa Scheunert at Watson Lake Hospital got underway in Whitehorse Monday morning.

Scheunert died in 2012 while being treated for back pain at the hospital where she had worked as a nurse.

Six women jurors were selected to hear the case.

A coroner's report suggested Scheunert died of a drug overdose, but a Yukon Hospital Corporation report later disputed that finding, saying she died of cardiac arrhythmia associated with sleep apnea.

Jurors were handed a binder full of exhibits, including hospital records, nurse reports, narcotics prescribed and a record of Scheunert's day passes from the hospital. Jurors will hear from 19 witnesses this week, including nurses who treated Scheunert, her doctors and a number of experts.

Absent from the witness list is the nurse on duty the day Scheunert died. Jurors were told they must rely on transcripts of her interview, as she has left the country.

On Monday afternoon, Teresa Scheunert's daughter Chandre Burchell told the inquest she spent six weeks in Watson Lake with her mom up to month before she died.

She says she warned her about the excessive Advil she was taking. Scheunert told her prescription drugs she tried made her nauseous. She was working night shifts at the hospital throughout.

Burchell was back in Alberta when her mother checked herself into hospital. They phoned each other several times a day, and Burchell says by the second week she noticed her mother deteriorating. Conversations were all over the map, and Scheunert's speech was severely slurred.

Jurors heard how Scheunert lived just a block from hospital and regularly checked herself out to make calls from home. Burchell says her mom cried hysterically on their call and told her she was scared, before heading back to the hospital for the night. She died the next day.

Jurors are expected to hear from hospital doctors when hearings resume Tuesday.

In a precedent-setting move, the inquest is being broadcast on closed-circuit television to people in Watson Lake. Yukon Chief Coroner Kirsten Macdonald says it's important the community be kept informed.

“Logistically, it was important that we held it in Whitehorse so we can get the expert witnesses in and out but the community of Watson Lake deserves to have an opportunity should they wish to view these proceedings,” she said.

The inquest can be viewed in Watson Lake at the Yukon College teleconferencing room.

B-C Coroner Norman Leibel is presiding over the inquest.