Where the dead talk back

Their work involves examining the dead to bring answers to the living. Every day pathologists are solving the mysteries of those who no longer walk the earth.

The Citizen spent time with specialist forensic pathologist Akmal Khan at the Forensic Pathology Services in Germiston, who introduced us to a world where he draws answers from those who no longer speak.

Khan tells us forensic pathology is a service that’s available to address all deaths believed to be unnatural . All murders, accidental deaths, suicides and deaths that are unexplained will be transferred to the lab for answers.

In cases where decomposing bodies or bones are discovered, those will also be sent to forensic pathology for answers.

“All those cases will have a police docket or inquest that will be opened and will come to us. We would go about investigating why exactly they died and assist the police in helping to confi rm the circumstances of the death,” Khan explains.

Khan on average does three cases a day where he does a full investigation on three cadavers.

“I usually cut in the morning, so I would go in and cut, do my cases, do all the investigation. But we don’t cut alone. We cut with forensic offi cers. We cut all the organs and take whatever samples we need to take.”

A pathologist will start by examining the clothing on the deceased.

Looking at the wounds with the clothes on the deceased can draw many answers. “A lot of the times, especially with gunshots, the clothing can give us a lot of answers, as well as to the range of the gunshot. So it is important to examine the clothing.”

Next they would do an external examination of the body, closely inspecting the entire body from head to toe and also what is called the hidden areas, which include between the toes, fingers and behind the ears.

Thereafter the pathologist will start the process of eviscerating the body – or removing the organs.

“We would go about the cutting. Some do a straight cut, from the tip of the chin all the way down to the pelvis. What I do is more of a ‘Y’ cut, a ‘V’ going up to behind the ears and then straight down to the pelvis.”

The organs will be then removed and examined separately for injuries, abnormalities and cancers.

This entire process would take about an hour and, once done, the pathologist would be able to derive a cause of death if extra tests are not necessary.

Khan says they would then compile an extensive report, as well as complete the death certificate.

While his job may not be for everyone, Khan believes it to be “quite an honour to work with the dead because you’re given an opportunity to look at somebody inside out; you see every part of them”.

“If your family member was killed, wouldn’t you want to have everything done that could possibly be done to find their killer or find the person that actually did it?

“It is an honour to take on that role to assist people in finding the killer; to find out what happened to them and to provide answers in court or even to the family or to a detective.”

Khan says often cases can be overwhelming – to the point where he gets upset and angry. Those cases involve children.

“Seeing a baby injured … it really hits you because they are innocent and should have someone looking afer them. And someone taking care of them,” Kahn says.

“I think the children really get to me because you feel like they don’t deserve this – especially because of the things we see.

“Rape homicides, children abused, seeing bodies that are mutilated … seeing all of that is difficult.” – alexm@citizen.co.za


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