Girl entered week-long coma to oxygen tank
A 10-year-old girl who was waiting to be transferred by helicopter from a university hospital in North Jeolla to a hospital in Seoul fell into a coma after the helicopter’s oxygenator malfunctioned last Tuesday.
The girl was hospitalized in an intensive care unit in Cheonbuk National University Hospital after she went into convulsion on July 2. The girl was diagnosed with pulmonary edema and septicemia and the doctor told her she had to undergo an appendectomy.
Given the severity of the girl’s lung disease, the hospital suggested that the girl receive surgery in a bigger hospital in Seoul and her parents decided to move her to the Samsung Hospital. The hospital, thus, contacted North Jeolla Fire Headquarters for a helicopter to transmit the girl to Seoul.
The helicopters in the North Jeolla Fire Headquarters were going through an annual check-up in Gimpo, Gyeonggi and thus a helicopter from the National 119 Rescue Headquarters was sent to the girl on July 7.
The North Jeolla Fire Headquarters notified the hospital that the helicopter would arrive sometime between 1:10 p.m. to 1:20 p.m. The helicopter, however, arrived at 1:29 p.m. Since the regional fire headquarters did not notify the hospital of the delay, the medical staff and her parents, who waited for the helicopter from 1:08 p.m., had to watch the girl desperately gasping for air for some 20 minutes.
When the helicopter arrived, the girl was breathing through a hand-operated respirator, or ambu-bag. She was put inside helicopter and the staff tried to turn on the oxygenator but the machine did not function and as staff tried for about five to 10 minutes to get it to work, the girl went into a seizure.
The hospital staff eventually took her down to the emergency room and put her on artificial respiration.
She was finally transferred to Samsung Hospital, Seoul by ambulance on July 8, only after her parents paid a substantial amount of money for the emergency treatment at the university hospital in North Jeolla. She woke up from her coma on Saturday but is still breathing with the help of the artificial respirator.
“How could there be no oxygen in the oxygenator of a helicopter used to rescue and transfer patients?” said the mother of the girl. “The firefighter department has made no effort to apologize to us.”
Regarding the accident, the National 119 Rescue Headquarters said, “There was up to six hours of oxygen in the oxygenator but it seems like the oxygen leaked out due to a flaw in the machine.” According to the rescue headquarters, the flaw supposedly happened when the oxygenator was put back on the helicopter after it was detached during a maintenance service in March.
The rescue headquarters also faulted the hospital for the accident, accusing it of not having prepared an oxygen cylinder with enough air until the helicopter arrived. The hospital, however, said, “According to the medical chart, there was enough oxygen in the cylinder but the workers used the ambu-bag because the level of saturated oxygen was too low.”
BY SHIN SOO-YEON, KIM JUN-HEE