Wrongly Declaring Death Not Unheard Of, Paramedic Says

August 05, 2009|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,brent.jones@baltsun.com

Officials from the nation's largest organization representing emergency medical personnel said mistakenly declaring a victim dead - as was the case in Northwest Baltimore this weekend - is rare but not unheard of.

Jerry Johnston, the immediate past president of the National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians, said statistics are not kept on the number of these incidents, but he is aware of cases in which someone was initially declared dead, only to later be determined to be alive. Johnston said those incidents often are used as examples when training new medics.

"As an industry, anyone in the medical profession knows errors are just not tolerated," Johnston said. "We're our own worse enemies. ... We don't like to make mistakes. We work diligently to make sure things like this never happen. But unfortunately everybody is human, and things like this happen."

Michael Richard Quarles, 51, remained in critical condition Tuesday at Sinai Hospital after he was shot by a city police officer during the robbery of a convenience store. Paramedics had originally pronounced Quarles dead, but the man showed signs of life about 30 minutes later and was then taken to the hospital.

Paramedics often err if the patient has an extremely faint pulse, which can be hard to detect, Johnston said. A spokesman for the city Fire Department, which oversees emergency medical personnel units, said officials are conducting an internal investigation into the incident, the first of its kind in the city in at least five years.

About 4:30 a.m. Saturday, police responded to a burglary at Shon's Food Market in the 4700 block of Garrison Blvd. in West Arlington and encountered Quarles inside the store. Quarles lunged at the officers with a long screwdriver that officers thought was a knife, according to a Baltimore police spokesman.

One officer fired his semiautomatic handgun and hit Quarles in the head, police said. The officer is on administrative leave pending an investigation.

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