Wednesday, October 29, 2008

911 screw-up may have caused teen's death

Earlier this month two medical crews were dispatched to respond to a teenager suffering a seizure at an Atlanta high school. Antoine Marc Williams, 16, went into cardiac arrest and later died. One of the crews was ordered to turn back, possibly delaying medical care that might have saved his life.

James Bothwell, executive director of emergency medical services and trauma at Grady Memorial Hospital, said the decision to cancel one responder on Oct. 14 violated protocols for such emergencies. He also said additional medical personnel can help save lives in similar medical emergencies. “It is a big deal,” Bothwell said, concerned that someone in law enforcement turned back an Atlanta fire truck. “Looking back at this, it was not the best decision for the child.”

He said Grady’s own dispatchers immediately sent a two-person ambulance to the school when the first call came in about 3:20PM. A firetruck with medical personnel dispatched by Atlanta 911 at the same time was turned back about seven minutes later, officials said. Bothwell said that was a violation of protocols for such medical emergencies.

The firetruck was ultimately redirected to the school after the teen went into cardiac arrest in the Care ambulance. The firetruck arrived 35 minutes after the initial call for help was received. Williams died hours later.

Bothwell said the order to halt the firetruck paramedics wasted valuable time. The extra crew could have provided vital extra hands, especially when Williams went into cardiac arrest, he said.

Classmates said Williams and another student began play-wrestling in a classroom that afternoon when a teacher briefly left the room. Williams fell, grabbed his arm and shouted “my heart.” A police report said Williams began “shaking out of control,” and Bothwell said a teacher called 911 for help.

The Grady ambulance and the firetruck were dispatched, but for reasons that remain unclear, the 911 operator canceled the call for the firetruck. Bothwell said the 911 operator’s order to turn back the firetruck came as a directive by an unnamed law enforcement figure.

Bothwell said that sending both an ambulance and fire department personnel is a shared protocol in such high-priority medical emergencies as Williams’. His ambulance crew, which arrived at the school at 3:29PM, spotted a firetruck on the school grounds before they went up into the classroom, but that fire crew never made it up to the classroom. It was at 3:29PM that the 911 dispatcher canceled the call to the fire crew.

As many as five medical personnel are needed to properly care for a cardiac patient —- one to supervise and others to administer chest compressions, insert a breathing tube, breathe air into the patient’s mouth and to administer medications.

When Williams went into cardiac arrest, the crew alerted dispatchers. Once again, 911 dispatched a fire crew. That crew arrived three minutes later. It was the fire crew that inserted a breathing tube down Williams’ throat, he said.

Bothwell said he could not say whether the fire personnel being there throughout the incident would have saved Williams’ life —- but mere minutes can make a big difference in saving the life of a person in cardiac arrest. (info from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

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