navalny: ‘He needs to be transferred to Europe’

5:40 am, August 20, 2020 : Meduza

Meduza’ interviews Navalny’s physician about the opposition politician’s apparent poisoning in Siberia and what should happen now.

On August 20, a plane carrying Anti-Corruption Foundation founder Alexey Navalny was forced to make an emergency landing in Omsk after Navalny became violently ill during the flight. He was immediately hospitalized. He reportedly lost consciousness and was put in intensive care, where he needed to be connected to a ventilator.

Navalny started feeling unwell en route from Tomsk to Moscow. According to his press secretary, Kira Yarmysh (who was traveling with him), Navalny has apparently been poisoned. Before boarding the plane in Tomsk, he drank a cup of tea at the airport. Doctors in Omsk have declined to say anything about Navalny’s diagnosis, citing doctor-patient confidentiality, but they say his condition is now stable. “Physicians are doing everything possible — they’re honestly working to save his life right now,” Anatoly Kalinichenko, the deputy chief doctor at the emergency care hospital in Omsk, told reporters. 

Meduza spoke to Yaroslav Ashikhmin, the general practitioner and cardiologist who’s monitored Navalny since 2016 and is now arranging Navalny’s medical evacuation to a facility in Europe.

Are you planning to transfer Navalny to a hospital in Moscow?

Navalny needs to be evacuated to Europe, of course. Through our channels, we’re trying to reach an agreement with a hospital in Hanover or Strasbourg to take him. COVID is complicating everything, but possibly they’ll take him in Hanover, where there’s an excellent toxicology school. It’s vital right now that the doctors in Omsk hand over their patient because, with all due respect, they need to realize that [toxicology] is a very specific field and there are very few schools that can handle a patient who’s probably been poisoned with some kind of toxin.

Why are you insisting that he’s sent to Europe? They won’t be able to cure him in Russia?

In Moscow, these cases are handled by the Sklifosovsky Institute and the Federal Biomedical Agency, but — now hear me — there are two tasks here: besides the need to save his life in this state, they also need to look for the poisonous substance, if there was one. Western clinics may be more capable of finding a specific agent.

Are you trying to move Navalny to Europe strictly because the quality of medicine is higher there?

Once again, please listen to me. I can’t say it directly: Doctors here have two tasks. They need to nurse a patient who’s now in very serious condition. The Sklifosovsky Institute could manage this at the level of a Western clinic. But there’s a second task, as well: finding the substance that maybe caused the poisoning. In this particular situation, Western clinics might potentially have more experience.

Navalny’s condition is reportedly serious. Can he be transferred anywhere right now? Would he really be moved now?

There’s no formal concept of “nontransferrability.” If the plane has a ventilator, then monitoring his condition in a well-equipped aircraft is no worse than the monitoring capacities of the intensive care unit in Omsk. 

The deputy chief doctor at the Omsk emergency care hospital now treating Navalny has said it’s still too early to confirm that Navalny was poisoned. What do you think?

I can’t say that this is poisoning or not. I haven’t examined the patient. I know only that what is happening to Alexey is connected to the action of some factor that has dramatically affected his body.

Has Navalny suffered any health problems previously that could have caused such a condition?

Navalny has suffered no illnesses that could cause any form of cardiac failure. I don’t know what happened to him, but does it look like poisoning? Yes, it does.

Does this look anything like the last time Navalny was poisoned?

No. This is completely different.

Maybe there was some lingering damage to his health from that last poisoning that’s only now manifesting?

No. He was in perfect health.

Are any of Navalny’s loved ones with him in Omsk to support him?

As far as I know, [his wife] Yulia is flying to him now [from Moscow]. And his personal physician, Nastya [Anastasia Vasilyeva], has also left for Omsk.

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