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Doctor says he erred in concluding Makibi Timilak died of a lung infection

An experienced pathologist testified Thursday he misread a tissue sample during a 2012 autopsy of Makibi Timilak, leading him to falsely conclude the baby died of a lung infection.

Misreading of tissue sample led doctor to wrongly conclude baby died of common respiratory virus

A doctor who examined tissue from Makibi Timilak's lung after he died mistook a red dye used to prepare microscope slides as evidence of a lung infection. (Family photo)

An experienced pathologist testified Thursday at a coroner's inquest into the infant Makibi Timilak's death, that he mistakenly concluded the 3-month old died from a lung infection.

Dr. Joseph de Nanassy told the jury he misread a tissue sample during a 2012 autopsy.

In the years since Timilak's death in April of 2012, the cause of death has changed three times, leaving his grieving parents confused and burdened with unanswered questions. The coroner's jury is charged with determining the cause of death, the circumstances around it, and making recommendations.

Timilak was rushed to the Cape Dorset health centre after his parents woke up to find him not breathing. Nurses attempted to revive the infant but could not. 

A doctor in Iqaluit determined the cause was Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.

Later that month Dr. de Nanassy, a pathologist with 20 years of experience, conducted an autopsy at the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario. 

While examining a tissue sample of Makibi's lung under a microscope, Dr. de Nanassy found what he thought was a cluster of cytomegalovirus, or CMV. He testified Thursday he was then of the opinion that the infection was probably "severe enough" to cause Timilak's death.

Mistake caught in review

In June 2012, he faxed off his final autopsy report to Nunavut's Chief Coroner Padma Suramala, stating that CMV — a common respiratory virus — caused the baby's death.

Three years later, Suramala emailed de Nanassy to say his report was under review.

One of the pathologists who reviewed the microscopic slides figured out that what de Nanassy thought was CMV turned out to be formalin pigment, a type of liquid used to prepare tissue slides for examination under a microscope.

The spots were not the result of red blood cells breaking down due to CMV as de Nanassy had originally thought.

De Nanassy signed off on a new report, concluding Timilak had died of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).

"I made an error in judgement," he told the court room and Timilak's emotional parents. "But it is my duty to correct it."

"I still think the cause of death is SIDS."

The jury will look to make a conclusive finding today, with recommendations to prevent similar deaths from happening in the future.

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