Saturday, April 8, 2006
A Honolulu man who fell into the sewage-contaminated Ala Wai Yacht Harbor died Thursday night of a massive bacterial infection that caused the loss of one of his legs, septic shock, and ultimately organ failure.
Oliver Johnson, 34, a Honolulu mortgage broker, died between 9:15 and 9:30 p.m. HST Thursday (0715-0730 UTC Friday) when his family removed him from life support. On Friday, March 31, Johnson had apparently fallen into the waters of the Ala Wai Yacht Harbor, located at the mouth of the Ala Wai Canal on the western side of Waikiki.
At the time, the canal and surrounding beaches were contaminated by over 48 million gallons of untreated sewage. The extent to which the sewage spill contributed to Johnson’s symptoms remains unclear.
Johnson earlier reported that he had fallen accidentally into the harbor, then later indicated that he had been involved in a fight on board a boat and had been pushed or thrown into the harbor waters. A security guard at Johnson’s apartment reported that he was bloodied and soaking wet, and that he stumbled into the lobby and collapsed. Paramedics took Johnson to Straub Hospital where he was treated and released.
Johnson reported steadily worsening leg pain that weekend and was admitted to Queen’s Hospital on Sunday with breathing difficulties. Doctors that night amputated his left leg above the knee to try to halt the spread of the infection, and Johnson was placed in a medically induced coma.
Initially suspecting that Johnson had contracted streptococcus-caused necrotizing fasciitis, doctors later found that Johnson had contracted three different bacteria, two of which, vibrio vulnificus and aeromonas hydrophila, have flesh-eating properties. Despite the amputation, Johnson’s condition steadily worsened to the point where doctors said that his other leg and left arm would also have needed to be amputated to save his life.
An autopsy performed by the Honolulu medical examiner’s office reported that Johnson had suffered from massive organ failure caused by septic shock. The medical examiner noted that Johnson had a vulnificus infection on his foot and suffered from chronic alcoholic liver disease which may have contributed to the infection’s taking hold.
The Honolulu Police Department has opened a third-degree assault case; with Johnson’s death, homicide detectives are also investigating. State health officials are also investigating Johnson’s illness.
Johnson’s family has retained an attorney to investigate the causes surrounding his illness and death. It is not clear yet whether any legal action will be taken.