By Physician’s Weekly blogger, Skeptical Scalpel

An investigation into the death of 60-year-old Argentine soccer icon Diego Maradona has resulted in seven members of his medical team being charged with “simple homicide with eventual intent” and other crimes. The list of defendants includes his neurosurgeon, a medical coordinator, two nurses, a nurse-coordinator, a psychiatrist, and a psychologist.

Having undergone successful surgery to remove a subdural hematoma early in November 2020, Maradona died of heart failure 2 weeks after being discharged from a hospital. Despite his deteriorating condition, he was not taken to a hospital on the day he died. Leaked recordings of conversations among those caring for him raised questions.

In March of this year, “Hundreds of Argentines protested … to demand justice for the death of Diego Maradona, as experts met earlier this week to investigate how the football legend died and whether there had been any medical negligence in his case.”

A medical board was appointed to investigate the circumstances of his death and concluded he was treated “in an inappropriate, deficient and reckless manner.” Neurosurgeon Leopoldo Luque’s lawyer disputed the medical board’s claims saying they were not based on science.

The report said care that Maradona received after his discharge from the hospital “did not fulfill the minimum requirements” for a patient with his medical history, and that he would have survived with adequate hospitalization.

During and after his long playing career, Maradona struggled with substance misuse and alcohol. He was named co-winner (with Pelé) of the Player of the Twentieth Century by the Fédération Internationale de Football Association [FIFA].

One website said, “In his last days, the Argentinean star consumed a cocktail of antidepressants and antipsychotics that, mixed with alcohol, could have seriously damaged his health and even cost him his life.” The medical team blamed the patient and each other.

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Loque, reportedly in charge of the medical team, said, “I did my best. I offered Diego everything I could. Some things he accepted, others not.” His lawyer said Luque was not in charge of Maradona’s home care.

A lawyer for psychiatrist Agustina Cosachov said she had nothing to do with Maradona’s management, and the drugs she prescribed could not have affected his heart.

The nurse who found him dead testified that she had tried to check on Maradona when she arrived for her shift, but he told her not to. She later admitted that was a lie and said the nurse-coordinator had told her to make it up. The nurse’s lawyer blamed the doctors for killing Maradona and said “there were many warning signs that Maradona was going to die, give or take a day. And none of the doctors did anything to prevent it.”

In the next few months, a judge is expected to rule on whether trials will be held.

Deviation from standard protocols can result in bad outcomes. Maradona should have been sent to a short-term rehabilitation facility. Instead, his post-hospital care took place in the playroom of a rented house. He may have been a victim of “VIP syndrome” which occurs when famous patients are treated differently than normal people.

Maradona’s death brings to mind some other celebrities possibly harmed by their status as VIPs such as Prince, Michael Jackson, and Joan Rivers. After they died, there was also public pressure to blame someone.

 

Skeptical Scalpel is a retired surgeon and was a surgical department chair and residency program director for many years. He is board-certified in general surgery and a surgical sub-specialty and has re-certified in both several times. For the last 9 years, he has been blogging at SkepticalScalpel.blogspot.com and tweeting as @SkepticScalpel. His blog has had more than 3,700,000 page views, and he has over 21,000 followers on Twitter.