Family face long wait over backpacker's lost heart

By James Ihaka

The family of an American backpacker whose heart went missing after she died suddenly in Queenstown last month face a long wait.

The Auckland District Health Board is investigating the disappearance of 23-year-old Whitney Robie's heart from LabPlus, the hospital's pathology laboratory.

Miss Robie collapsed while watching TV at Deco Backpackers in Queenstown on May 15 and died shortly afterwards despite efforts to revive her.

Invercargill pathologist Dr Ahmed Shogun could not determine her cause of death. Queenstown coroner Alan Macalister and police requested a further investigation and her heart was couriered to LabPlus for tests.

But Miss Robie's heart was lost and had been missing since, despite a "thorough and repeated search" for it.

"I can confirm ... [it] has not been located," said the health board's external communications manager Fleur King.

She said the normal procedure was for the board to conduct its investigation before presenting its findings to relatives.

The process could take several months, she said.

"The family will be presented with the document. It is up to them if they want to present it to the public."

Ms King would not say if anyone or any organisation would be punished over the matter but said "additional measures" had been introduced to ensure it did not happen again.

In a statement issued to the media, the board and LabPlus expressed deep regret at what had happened and said the organisation had been in contact with Miss Robie's family.

However, Miss Robie's mother, Alison, told the Herald on Sunday she and her husband Chuck were angry at the lack of information and contact from both LabPlus and the health board.

"Auckland Hospital has never called us. The lab has never called us. The only communication from anyone over there, other than the police and the original doctor who was with Whitney after the incident, has been through a funeral director here," said Mrs Robie.

The couple want to know what caused their daughter's death and what went wrong at LabPlus.

"I'm kind of speechless to be honest with you over the whole thing," said Mr Robie. "It's a personal matter when we start talking about something of our daughter's.

"We have struggled with that whole issue. We're really at a loss at this point in time, without any information on what we should do," he said.

Miss Robie was buried in her New Hampshire home town on May 23.

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