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Rob Sinclair (left) ,cousin of Brian Sinclair, a man who died after a 34-hour wait in an emergency ward, and Vilko Zbogar, Toronto-based lawyer for the Sinclair family, are shown outside the Winnipeg Law Courts in this photo from Nov. 17, 2009.Mike Deal/The Canadian Press

A man who died during a 34-hour wait at a Winnipeg emergency room came close to death just over a year before when he was found frozen to the steps of a church in the dead of winter.

The inquest into the death of Brian Sinclair heard the 45-year-old man had been locked out of his rooming house in January 2007. Mr. Sinclair was found frozen in the fetal position several days later.

Dr. Maria Araneda, who treated Sinclair following his admission to hospital, told the inquest Monday that Mr. Sinclair's core temperature of 28 degrees Celsius could have been deadly.

"A core temperature of 28 degrees is remarkable," she said. "It was a life-threatening illness."

Mr. Sinclair lost both his legs above the knee due to frostbite and had difficulty understanding his new limitations, she said. He was no longer able to urinate on his own and required a catheter.

Dr. Araneda said she wasn't confident Mr. Sinclair could handle his medication or medical appointments, even with home care help.

"He's a fiercely independent man who doesn't have insight into his functional limitations," Dr. Araneda said reading from her notes at the time.

In September 2008, Mr. Sinclair was sent to Winnipeg Health Sciences Centre after he went to a clinic in because he hadn't urinated in 24 hours.

He was seen wheeling himself up to the triage area, speaking to an aide and then wheeling himself to the emergency department waiting room.

During his 34-hour wait, Mr. Sinclair vomited on himself and stopped moving. Eventually a fellow patient approached a security guard with concerns about Mr. Sinclair. By that time, rigor mortis had begun to set in and Mr. Sinclair was declared dead.

Manitoba's medical examiner, Thambirajah Balachandra, testified Mr. Sinclair died when an infection from a blocked catheter spread to his bloodstream.

Mr. Sinclair needed about 30 minutes of treatment from a doctor, Dr. Balachandra said. His catheter needed to be changed and antibiotics prescribed.

Dr. Araneda tried to get Mr. Sinclair into an amputee rehab clinic following his operation but he was rejected because experts didn't believe he could learn to walk again on two prosthetic legs.

Finding housing for Mr. Sinclair was also a challenge, she said. His social assistance money didn't cover the cost of living at the only social housing facility that would have been appropriate.

"Housing is something we struggle with on a regular basis," she said.

Mr. Sinclair had a history of solvent abuse.

Dr. Araneda said he became aggressive and lashed out when questioned about whether he had been sniffing toxic substances before he almost froze to death. Otherwise, she said he was so soft-spoken that he was hard to understand.

"Communication with him was difficult. He was a man of few words," Dr. Araneda said. "He was very soft-spoken and very reluctant to have a conversation."

The inquest is scheduled to continue for the month of August and resume again in October.

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