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Paramedics have voiced their frustration to a coronial inquest about the attitude of people at a spiritual retreat where a 46-year-old man died.
- The New South Wales Coroner’s Court, sitting in Lismore, is investigating what caused a fatal tear in Jarrad Antonovich’s oesophagus
- Paramedics told the inquest people were doing yoga while they performed CPR
- A toxicologist said he would expect people to recognise another’s distress, even if they couldn’t diagnose the problem
Jarrad Antonovich died on October 16, 2021, at the six-day Dreaming Arts Festival held in Collins Creek, north of Kyogle.
The court has been told he used kambo frog poison and a powerful psychedelic substance while at the retreat, although the cause of his death was a perforated oesophagus.
The coroner will investigate whether the excessive vomiting often associated with ayahuasca and kambo ceremonies caused the fatal tear.
Ayahuasca is traditionally used by indigenous shamans, or natural healers, with promises of spiritual, physical and psychological healing and growth.
Ayahuasca only grows in the Amazon and when brewed with other natural jungle products it becomes one of the most powerful hallucinogens in the world.
Kambo devotees make small dot-like burns on their skin before applying poison harvested from the Amazonian giant tree-frog, which induces severe vomiting.
It is claimed that the process rids the body of toxins, but Australian health authorities say there is no evidence to support that claim and that kambo carries the risk of heart attack and damage to the liver and stomach.
‘No-one was interested’
The inquest has heard that Mr Antonovich was observed looking unwell at about 10.00am on the day of his death, but an ambulance was not called until about 11.30 that night and took an hour to arrive due to the remote location.
Paramedic Phillipa Vallard told the court on Tuesday that she walked into a hall on the property to find two men performing CPR on Mr Antonovich and a woman massaging his feet.
“He looked dead — he was blue,” Ms Vallard said.
“There were 30 or more people there doing yoga or meditation.
“No-one was interested that there was CPR at the front of the hall.”
The other paramedic who responded to the initial call was Brett Murray, who said he was frustrated when he tried to find out what had happened.
“We couldn’t establish any information,” he said.
“We got absolutely nothing.
“They were just preoccupied with whatever they were doing — it was weird.”
The inquest heard Mr Antonovich’s neck became extremely swollen soon after he took kambo poison at about 10am on the morning of his death.
Toxicologist Darren Roberts told the court it could have been a reaction known as “frog face”, or a case of subcutaneous emphysema caused by a ruptured oesophagus.
“Sometimes you see air tracking up under the skin causing swelling,” he said.
Associate Professor Roberts was asked if members of the public could be expected to diagnose such a rare condition.
“I would expect members of the public would be able to identify when someone is on distress,” he said.
“I think the whole picture sounded very disturbing.”
The inquest, presided over by Teresa O’Sullivan, continues in Lismore.
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