(Note to readers: This article has not been updated since Wed., Jan. 5. But The Arkansas Blog has had several items on the subject and a number of readers have posted comments on the article. View comments under the Arkansas Blog item headlined “Hospital responds” for postings from more than 15 readers.)
The Pulaski County coroner Tuesday officially ruled the death of noted pediatric heart surgeon Dr. Jonathan Drummond-Webb a suicide. The cause of death, said Coroner Mark Malcolm, was respiratory failure from drug and alcohol intoxication.
An empty whiskey bottle was found by the doctor’s body in his West Little Rock home. The body contained Oxycodone, a painkiller. His blood alcohol level was .326, more than triple the level at which a person is considered legally intoxicated.
The coroner’s ruling allowed release of copies of five pages of lined notebook paper on which Drummond-Webb scrawled final words in a hard-to-decipher hand. It was an often angry note and, as hospital officials had warned after his death, reflected frustration at some people with whom he worked at Arkansas Children’s Hospital. Officials had described Drummond-Webb’s complaints as merely illustrative of his perfectionist nature and routine in the hospital setting. Some of the doctor’s remarks were intensely personal, but he didn’t explain the ill feelings
The doctor, who was said to be burdened by the small number of children he was unable to save in surgery despite performing hundreds of successful operations each year, declared in the early morning of Dec. 26:
“Fuck the talent, every day my living hell!!
These people don’t care!
I have a gift to save babies
The world is not ready for me.”
He also told his wife, Lorraine LeBlanche, that he loved her and asked that he be cremated and placed in the bottom of a volcanic crater.
After the note to his wife, Drummond-Webb writes: “I have taken my leave ciao!!!” He further instructs the coroner that he’s taken an overdose and that there is no need to “violate my body.” Drummond-Webb, an advocate of organ transplants, wasn’t able to be an organ donor in his own death because organs must be harvested while the donor is on life supports. The coroner’s report said Drummond-Webb’s body had words written on his right arm in ink — “NO POST MORTEM” and “FUCK U.”
In often profane and barely legible handwriting, Drummond-Webb called one woman a “lying bitch,” called another doctor a “moron” who “will kill your kids” and referred to a doctor at UAMS, a specialist in another medical specialty, as a “charlatan” and an “asshole.” He didn’t explain, though he said of one woman he named, “the deaths of children are on your head.” He also wrote at one point, “We need to investigate capacity the system of Arkansas Children’s Hospital …” He didn’t elaborate.
The note was released Tuesday. Wednesday, a Children’s Hospital spokesman said officials there would not take questions about the matter. It limited its comment to this prepared statement from Suzanne Patton, the director of communications:
“Dr. Drummond-Webb was terribly intoxicated (over 4 times the legal limit for intoxication), distraught and suffering from depression when he wrote his final note. He was not the Jonathan Drummond-Webb we loved and respected. Had we known of his circumstances, measures would have been taken to ensure he received appropriate professional intervention.
“He and the entire Heart Team achieved outstanding results for the children of Arkansas and beyond. The record speaks for itself.
“It is useless to speculate on what prompted any of his specific statements. He was not himself when he wrote the note. “
Webb also told another person he described as his dear friend and teacher, “you would never operate like me, will never be able to.”
There were a few rare kind words to his wife: “Lollie, I really love you.”
But the South African native’s note was mostly unhappy:
“This USA is stupid! … I am going home!!! To my mom and dad!”
His parents are dead.