‘Horrific’ hospital mix-up remains a mystery

An elderly man who died after his bladder burst and his lungs collapsed when an oxygen tube was inserted into his catheter was unlikely to have done the deed himself, an inquest finds.

SA Coroner Mark Johns said it was “implausible” that former Socceroo Stephen Herczeg, 72, caused his own “cruelly painful death” but that he couldn’t rule it out.

The coroner said the most pressing issue in the inquest was to answer the question of how the oxygen supply came to be connected to Mr Herczeg's catheter in September last year at Adelaide’s Queen Elizabeth Hospital.

The court heard Mr Herczeg was receiving oxygen via nasal cannula from the oxygen supply at the bedside. He also had an indwelling catheter to drain his bladder.

Despite evidence that Mr Herczeg was in a confused state and was known to fiddle with his tubes, in the coroner’s opinion it was unlikely that he killed himself “because of the complexity of the task and the multiple manoeuvres”.

Mr Johns also noted that there was no evidence of a deliberate mix-up.

"However, I cannot exclude the possibility that he did it himself, implausible as it seems. I therefore find that the tubing was interfered with by an unknown person."

Mr Johns described Mr Herczeg’s death as “horrific”.

“It was traumatic and there is no doubt that Mr Herczeg was in severe pain as a result of the mechanism of death,” he said.

“In the awful and macabre circumstances of Mr Herczeg’s death, his body filled much like a balloon, causing internal disruption. The pressure of the gas prevented him from being able to fill his lungs and he died because he could not breathe.”

The other obvious source of pain was the rupture of the bladder, he added.