Doctors initially treated the 15-year-old who died from an alcohol overdose last weekend as an auto accident victim because one of the teen-agers who took the boy to a Salisbury hospital Friday lied about his condition.
A teen told a nurse that Brian C. Ball had been found along a road, an apparent victim of an auto accident, according to hospital and police spokesmen.
Actually, the teen knew that Brian had consumed a large amount of alcohol and was "extremely drunk," said First Sgt. Edwin L. Lashley, a Maryland State Police spokesman. Brian downed as many as 26 shots of liquor at a teen-age drinking party outside of Salisbury, party-goers told police and reporters.
The teens who delivered the unconscious Brian "knowingly gave an inaccurate description of the events that led them to bring Mr. Ball to the hospital," Lashley said. "They did that because they did not want to get the individual who was throwing the party in trouble and they did not want to reveal the location of the party."
Although asked by hospital personnel to stay, the teens drove off before medical staffers could ask more questions about Brian, said Dr. Robert T. Adkins, medical director of the hospital's department of emergency services.
Brian, an honor student and green belt in karate from Trenton, Texas, was visiting relatives in Salisbury last week.
Doctors began treating Brian as an accident victim and did not realize how much alcohol he had consumed until receiving the results of a blood alcohol test. It usually takes 45 minutes to one hour to get back the results of that test, Adkins said.
Hospital staffers spent at least a minute putting Brian, who was not breathing, on a back board and in a neck brace before moving him into the hospital, Adkins said. Those procedures would have helped an accident victim, but not someone suffering from an alcohol overdose.
Doctors attempted to restore oxygen to his body by inserting a breathing tube connected to an apparatus that delivers oxygen, Adkins said. They then took what turned out to be unnecessary spine and chest X-rays to check for injuries that could have been caused by an accident.
Adkins said physicians probably would not have been able to save Brian even if the teens who took him to the hospital had told them the truth about his drinking.
"It would certainly help any of us if we had the proper [medical] history," Adkins said. "In this particular instance, however, I don't feel personally that the incorrect information affected Brian's medical chances. I think he probably was brain dead when he arrived."
"We probably did more than we needed to do, in retrospect, but we did nothing we shouldn't have done and nothing out of the sequence that medical protocol would have required," Adkins said.
Adkins said he supposed hospital staffers realized that Brian had been drinking. "It doesn't take a very sophisticated nose to tell he'd been drinking," he said. But they would not have known how much alcohol Brian had consumed without accurate information from the teens who took him to the hospital or until receiving the results of the blood alcohol test, he said.
Two possible treatments for acute alcohol intoxication include a blood-cleansing procedure and stomach pumping, Adkins said. Doctors did not perform either procedure, he said, and might not have done so even if they had known immediately that Brian was suffering from alcohol poisoning.
The blood-cleansing procedure has not been proven to work, Adkins said, and the boy did not require stomach pumping.
Adkins believes the boy might have choked on his own vomit before arriving at the hospital, which would have cut off the oxygen needed to keep his brain alive. If someone had held his head to the side while he vomited, the doctor said, Brian's condition might not have been so serious.
Dr. Donald G. Wright, state deputy chief medical examiner, said an autopsy did not reveal that Brian died from choking on vomit but rather from acute alcohol intoxication. Brian had an extremely high blood alcohol level -- 0.37 percent -- that likely depressed his respiratory system so much that he could not get enough oxygen into his body, he said.
Reached in Salisbury yesterday, the boy's mother, Janice H. Ball, said she plans to talk to the teens in Trenton about the dangers of alcohol. "We're already organizing so I can talk to the kids back home," she said.
Mrs. Ball said Brian would have started driving next March. "We already started talking to Brian. We told him the facts about what would happen [with alcohol]."
She described her only son as a very special, quiet teen, and said she did not blame anyone for what happened to him.