Doctor says copter cuts may have cost a life

October 08, 1991|By John Rivera and Jonathan Bor

A Prince George's County man who died after an auto accident might have been saved if a medevac helicopter had been available before dawn Friday to fly him to a shock trauma center, according to the surgeon who treated him.

Kevin A. Rogers, 29, of Mitchellville near Bowie, died at Prince George's Hospital Center three days after Gov. William Donald Schaefer grounded the state's medevac helicopters during the early morning hours.

The helicopters have not operated between 3 a.m. and 7 a.m. since state spending cuts were imposed last week, so Mr. Rogers was taken by ambulance to the hospital, approximately a 25-minute ride. The delay may have cost Mr. Rogers his life, the surgeon said.

"I know for sure I would have had a lot better chance if he had come in earlier," said Dr. Luat Duckett, a trauma surgeon who was able to briefly revive Mr. Rogers. "There's no doubt in my mind."

Mr. Rogers was a passenger in a 1990 Plymouth Horizon driven by David A. Pometto, 21, of Bowie, who drove onto the shoulder of Interstate 95 at St. Barnabas Road and slammed into the rear of a parked, unattended Cadillac shortly after 5:30 a.m.

Peter Piringer, a spokesman for the Prince George's County Fire Department, said rescue units received the call at 5:37 a.m. and arrived at the scene in six or seven minutes. The ambulance left for Prince George's Hospital Center at 6:04 a.m. and arrived about 25 minutes later.

Response time to I-95 and St. Barnabas Road would be about the same for a medevac helicopter or an ambulance, a medevac pilot said, but Mr. Piringer said a helicopter would make the trip to the hospital in less than half the time.

"It's more than likely that a helicopter could have been used in this particular incident. . . . Generally they do call for a helicopter in that area," Mr. Piringer said.

The rescue units that responded to Friday's accident did not call for a helicopter because they knew none was available, he said.

Mr. Rogers' heart was not beating when he was wheeled into the operating room at 6:30 a.m., Dr. Duckett said. He was bleeding internally from a torn liver and a ruptured spleen.

After working for 20 minutes, Dr. Duckett was able to get Mr. Rogers' heart beating again, then he operated to stop the bleeding. But Mr. Rogers' blood pressure never rose to normal levels, possibly because his heart was damaged from such an extended period without oxygen.

"It was a miracle that we were able to bring him back," Dr. Duckett said. "That's why if there were any chance I could have gotten him earlier, he might be alive."

Dr. Duckett said there is no way to be sure he could have saved Mr. Rogers, but "his heart stopped beating for 45 minutes and yet he came back."

Later that morning at 7 a.m., Trooper Wayne Parrett, a state police medic who works at the medevac hangar at Andrews Air Force Base, received a call to transport an injured pedestrian to Prince George's Hospital Center from an area close to the site of Mr. Rogers' earlier accident.

When Trooper Parrett got to the hospital, he said, a distressed Dr. Duckett, who had just treated Mr. Rogers, looked at him and said: "Too bad you guys weren't here at around five. We could have used you."

Dr. Duckett said he was unaware the helicopters weren't functioning during the early morning hours until the trooper told him.

"When I asked the medic why it took so long, he informed me that they had to go by ambulance," Dr. Duckett said. "I'm used to getting these critically injured patients by helicopter. . . . Any critically ill patient, the longer you wait, the less chance they have. They're already behind the eight ball."

In Mr. Rogers' case, the medics who treated him immediately started to resuscitate him and did not administer an intravenous solution or insert a breathing tube. "He was without any medication for 25 minutes," Dr. Duckett said. "This is why time is so important. If I had gotten to him earlier, he would have had an IV inserted and a tube inserted, and I might have been able to revive him."

Mr. Rogers died at 10 a.m. Friday.

Dr. Duckett said he found the experience extremely frustrating. "I'm a surgeon. I spent five years in training to sharpen my skills. . . . Every second is important for me and here somebody takes away 25 minutes," he said.

Troopers at the medevac hangar also expressed frustration.

"I like to go home and feel that I'm really helping people," said Trooper Parrett. "The guys who have been fired, I feel sorry for them. But I feel even more sorry for the people whose lives are lost."

Dr. Duckett said he is angry and intends to let the governor know about it.

"I think that is a shameful thing to do," he said. "I wish the people who made that decision would talk to the family of the patient who died and explain this to them."

Attempts to locate Mr. Rogers' family yesterday were unsuccessful. Mr. Pometto, who was listed in stable condition at the Greater Southeast Community Hospital in Washington, refused to comment on the accident.

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