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Saturday, March 14, 2009

40th Birthday in the Kingdom: A fatal misdiagnosis by an EMT

Gina's story [the names are changed]:
My older sister was 39, almost 40, and lived in Beaufort, South Carolina, on St. Helena's Island. My kids called her Aunt Mell. One day, we had to call for emergency help for her. The firemen came first, then two EMTs (emergency medical technicians).

The emergency medical technicians (EMTs) tried to help her up, but couldn't. At that time, at 5:34 am, her pulse was 126, which was regular; she just needed oxygen. They decided not to treat her until she got up herself. One guy thought she was faking it. With a lack of oxygen, you act a little funny…But they said, If you don't get up, I'm going to call the policeman! They wouldn't let me intervene.

So they didn't treat her for some time – for 18 minutes. I was praying for everything to be all right. I was in shock. She was my big sister, and she depended on me to come through for her. That morning, when she really needed me, I felt so helpless. I tried to help her by letting them help her.

He had his boots on her arm to help her stay down, or whatever.

She went into cardiac arrest. The one EMT guy just flipped out, called her by name, and then he knew she was gone. The EMT guy tried to work on her. "We have no time to waste," he said. They tried to revive her for 15-20 minutes, but I knew she was gone already. So instead of having her 40th birthday party with us, she had it in the Kingdom [of God].

I wanted an autopsy. The nurse said, "We have to do an autopsy; who do you want to take the body? I have to talk to a family member." But they acted like there was a mix-up, like one of my other siblings had told them something different. They went ahead and had a funeral service director pick her up, so there was no autopsy.

But their mistake was in the record anyway, so we were able to find out the truth. Most people thought she had died from an asthma attack, but I saw, and I knew better. I never thought I'd witness a medical team that didn't give help. It was such a nightmare – I thought I was dreaming.

I went through all of this in a deposition with a lawyer. The EMT guy was really mean; he had anger management issues. My attorney picked up on that, and said, He's a very angry man! But nothing happened to that man.

My mom was devastated by this. She spoke at the deposition, and poured her heart out. That brought her peace. She knew the truth, but was in too much pain to talk about it. The stress from all that shortened her life.

I haven't told anyone about this for ten years, until now.

Gina's Advice: If the EMTs don't seem to be helping your family member in an emergency, call 911 again, or call the police. Act right away!

Read another story of a 911 call gone awry.

Thanks to Gina for telling her story over the phone. A fuller account can be found in the October 2004 issue of the Journal of Emergency Medical Services, in Volume 29.

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