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Feb 6, 2023

Medical Professionals Weigh in on Disturbing Death of Mother

Nicole Polonio

Thirty-four-year-old Nicole Polonio was laid to rest on Saturday in the island town of San Pedro, one week after she was seen on the streets, acting out of character in what her friend’s called a mental breakdown. What happened there after is being investigated because the mother of five was restrained with chains and padlocks and died six days later inside a room at the family home. Today, News Five’s Duane Moody revisits the story and speaks to psychologist and medical doctor about the circumstances surrounding Nicole’s mental health and what could have led to her death.


Duane Moody, Reporting

Last week, we aired the chilling story on the death of Nicole Polonio, a mother of five in San Pedro.  What was witnessed by many beginning the week of January nineteenth – a woman in the nude on the street, the actions taken by the family and her ultimate death – is like the script of a horror movie and a police investigation is ongoing.


Hilberto Romero

ACP Hilberto Romero, Regional Commander, Eastern Division

“We have since carried out a thorough investigation, several statements have been recorded, exhibits retrieved from the house and we will forward the file to the D.P.P. to make a determination whether anyone is to be charged for that incident.”


Polonio died from positional asphyxia due to freedom restraining measures. Her body was placed in a position that compromised her airways and she was unable to breathe anymore, resulting in her death. She was initially restrained with chains and padlocks for days and reports are that she died wrapped tightly inside a sheet. Internist, Doctor Fernando Cuellar breaks it down, likening the scenario to that of George Floyd in the U.S., who died from postural asphyxia.


Fernando Cuellar

Dr. Fernando Cuellar, Internist

“Asphyxia is a term where your air supply, your oxygen supply is cut off and depending on what abnormal position you are in.  For example if you are on your belly, if a knee is put on your chest or if you are what they call hogtied bounded – if you are tied up in a position where you are bent over or hogtied, then that can cut off your airway. And remember, your waist start from your mouth and nose down to your windpipe and your chest.”


Duane Moody

“This happens over a period of time?”


Dr. Fernando Cuellar

“Of course. It can vary. I can’t say how much time it wah take, but it is not instantaneous for sure.”


According to family and friends, Polonio had no history of having suffered from any mental health condition. But the symptoms she exhibited say otherwise.


Aimee Jex

Aimee Jex, Professional Counsellor

“There was the initial incident where this person was on the street. And that was a huge change from what she typically is – a mother of five, a respectable thirty-four-year-old – and so in this instance, that would have been a large indicator to seek out medical intervention. Psychotic episodes could be a result of a medical condition, a psychotic episode could be the result of drug use, psychotic episode could be the result of bipolar disorder, a psychotic episode could be the result of many other things besides schizophrenia.”


That diagnoses, however, would have had to be done by a psychiatrist or a professional in the mental health field.  While by all accounts, it is not believed that the family intentionally caused the death of Polonio, their actions may have caused more harm than good. Professional counsellor Aimee Jex says that often times our cultural beliefs influence the way loved ones choose to address a mental health issue.


Aimee Jex

“In this situation it was a bit tricky because there are cultural aspects to we believe as a family that this may have been happening. It is a cultural phenomenon that is happening. We have these in many of the cultures in Belize, not just one in particular, but we do have cultures that are very spiritual who believe in some incidents, mental health concerns are seen as a religious experience or a cultural spiritual experience. We have in Mestizo culture a certain spirituality, in Christianity we have other spirituality where we look at spirits, possessions, demons and all of these happen and we don’t want to undervalue that that happens in our culture. When we look at it from a mental health perspective, it’s always in a cultural aspect. But what we really want to determine are one, the changes that are happening and two what harm is happening. So in this context, if we see someone who all of a sudden starts to blurt out profane things, from a cultural perspective it could be a possession; from a mental health perspective, it could be a mental health diagnosis. You want to make sure that you see improvement in a shorter amount of time. If you see an exacerbation of symptoms, then you want to seek something else as well.”


Her friends, police and the community made several attempts were made to get Polonio assistance, but the family refused. While there is some level of restrainment used at medical facilities during psychotic episodes, Jex says that it is not done for a prolonged period of time. So when is the best time to seek professional medical intervention?


Aimee Jex

“If this person is a danger to themselves or to someone else, it is very important to seek help. So who do you seek help from? If culturally, you are going to a pastor or culturally you are going to someone who is a spiritual leader, then that is one step. If you want, you can also go through the medical profession as well. In that case, you go to a polyclinic or to the hospital nearest you. All the polyclinics and all the hospitals in Belize have opportunity for referrals to the mental health unit. So they have access to counsellors to psychiatrists through the polyclinic. It depends on the situation and it is very important when a person is in crisis to transfer that person to a medical facility that has the resources to manage that person appropriately.”


Duane Moody for News Five.

Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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