NATIONAL CENTER FOR CASE STUDY TEACHING IN SCIENCE
Water Can Kill?
Exploring Effects of Osmosis
Susan D. Hester
Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology
University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ
Part I – Three True Stories
Case 1: Jennifer Strange 1,2
Jennifer Strange was a 28-year-old mother of three who entered a radio contest to try to win a Nintendo Wii game system for her children. As part of KDND’s “Hold your wee for a Wii” contest, Jennifer drank bottle after bottle of water for hours without urinating.
Initially, Jennifer seemed to be having fun, joking lightheartedly with the radio hosts and obligingly downing an 8-ounce bottle of water every 15 minutes. As the hours passed, however, she developed a splitting headache and dizziness. Finally, she couldn’t take it anymore and ran to the bathroom and vomited. Jennifer called her boss to say that she was going home for the day because her headache was excruciating and she was too sick for work. Jennifer’s mother found her that afternoon, dead in her home.
Case 2: Cassandra Killpack 3
After a 3 ½-week trial, a jury found Jennete Killpack, 29, guilty of killing her 4-year-old adopted daughter Cassandra by forcing approximately a gallon of water down the girl’s throat in an attempt to discipline her. A few hours after the “hydro-discipline,” the Killpacks called the paramedics because Cassandra was unresponsive. The paramedics delivered her to the hospital, where she died later that day. Medical investigation found that Cassandra’s brain was swollen and the concentration of sodium in her blood and tissues was far below normal.
Case 3: James McBride 4
James McBride, a 25-year-old police officer, died after a 12-mile bike ride that was part of a training course. Over the course of the ride, James drank roughly three gallons of water that he brought with him in a pack. During a session that focused on how to dismount a bike, an instructor noticed that McBride looked ill and asked him to sit...
References: 1. Woman dies after water-drinking contest. MSNBC. January 13, 2007. http://www.msnbc.msn.com/
2. Jury awards $16 million to family in fatal radio prank. LA Times. October 29, 2009. http://latimesblogs.latimes.
3. Split verdict surprises and stuns the Killpacks. Deseret News. October 13, 2005. http://www.deseretnews.com/
4. District officer dies after bike ride: Over-hydration cited as factor. The Washington Post. August 11, 2005. http://
Source: The following information is from the article “Hyponatremia” in A.D.A.M. Medical Encyclopedia, April 14, 2013,
Image in title block © Umberto Salvagnin, “Water balloon explosion 2” (http://www.flickr.com/photos/34745138@N00/4679020171), used in
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