(c) Copyright 2001 Winston-Salem Journal. All rights reserved.
Wednesday, December 5, 2001
WINSTON-SALEM JOURNAL; B
WRONGFUL-DEATH SUIT FILED AGAINST COUNTY; PARAMEDICS LACKED SKILLS, REFUSED AID, MAN’S WIDOW SAYS
By John Hinton JOURNAL REPORTER
A Winston-Salem woman filed a wrongful-death lawsuit yesterday, charging that Forsyth County paramedics improperly inserted a breathing tube into her husband and failed to allow a doctor at the scene to help them.
Mary P. Matthews, the wife of the late Robert B. Matthews, filed the lawsuit in Forsyth Civil Superior Court as the administrator of her husband’s estate. Mary Matthews is suing for more than $20,000 in damages to pay for medical expenses, funeral costs and other financial losses, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit made the charges against Forsyth County and the Forsyth Emergency Medical Services, the agencies listed as defendants. The Winston-Salem Journal also reported the incident in January 2000.
Mary Matthews and her husband were walking along Hawthorne Road on Dec. 5, 1999, when Robert Matthews had a heart attack. Dr. Paul Rieker, who was then an anesthesiology resident at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center, stopped to help.
Rieker tried to revive Robert Matthews and stayed with him until paramedics with the Forsyth County Emergency Medical Services arrived. The paramedics tried to insert a breathing tube into Matthews’ lungs, but they had difficulty performing the procedure.
Rieker offered to help the paramedics and told them that he was an anesthesiologist. But the paramedics repeatedly refused Rieker’s offers of help.
The paramedics made several unsuccessful attempts to place the breathing tube through Robert Matthews’ trachea.
Rieker was later arrested by Winston-Salem police officers, but a county magistrate didn’t file any charges against him. The paramedics and police said that Rieker didn’t show proper identification as the paramedics were trying to revive Matthews.
Matthews was taken to Forsyth Medical Center, where emergency workers noticed that the breathing tube had been inserted in Matthews’ esophagus rather than in his trachea or windpipe.
The esophagus carries food to the stomach and the trachea carries oxygen to the lungs. Robert Matthews died at the hospital at 4:12 p.m.
The lawsuit alleges that the paramedics and the county supervisors were negligent because paramedics lacked the training and skills to insert a breathing tube into a patient, they failed to notice that they improperly inserted the breathing tube in Matthews, and they refused Rieker’s offer of help without checking his credentials.
County Manager Graham Pervier declined to comment. County attorney Davida Martin said that she hadn’t seen the lawsuit and also declined to comment.
In a previous interview, county officials said that paramedics followed the rules when they refused Rieker’s help and that they gave Matthews proper medical care.
Wade Byrd of Fayetteville, one of Mary Matthews’ attorneys, said that Rieker knew that the paramedics had incorrectly inserted the breathing tube.
“That is why he was making a fuss,” Byrd said. “He was doing all he could to help and being a good Samaritan. He didn’t get a lot for his efforts.”