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Fatality inquiry hears from nurses who saw Lionel Desmond in hospital

The Desmond fatality inquiry has heard from three of the doctors who saw Lionel Desmond in the months before he killed his family and himself — and it is now hearing another point of view: that of the nurses.

Heather Wheaten, a crisis nurse who saw Desmond on Oct. 24, 2016, at St. Martha’s Regional Hospital in Antigonish, N.S., is the first witness being called to testify Tuesday.

As Judge Warren Zimmer hopes to make recommendations to prevent further deaths — like those at the heart of this fatality inquiry — he’s looking into whether there are gaps as someone moves from military care to the civilian health-care system. 

The inquiry also continues to probe whether the civilian clinicians who saw Desmond, an Afghanistan war veteran, were trained to recognize the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder and domestic violence. 

Both intersect in this case.

The inquiry heard last week about Desmond’s release from hospital on Jan. 2, 2017, the day before he killed his wife, Shanna, his daughter, Aaliyah, and his mother, Brenda, in the Upper Big Tracadie, N.S., where he’d been living before his wife asked him to leave on New Year’s Eve.

Desmond, 33, arrived at the St. Martha’s emergency room on Jan. 1, 2017, after he’d spent the night before yelling and slamming furniture. He told doctors his wife asked him to go somewhere else after frightening their 10-year-old daughter. 

Although he was kept overnight, the psychiatrist who released Desmond told the inquiry that there were no signs he would harm himself or anyone else. 

But evidence already presented suggests the nurses may have seen a different version of Desmond, one who slept poorly and had a bad night in hospital. They wrote about that in his chart, the inquiry has heard, but Dr. Faisal Rahman — the psychiatrist who saw him — didn’t read it again before releasing Desmond. 

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