Declared dead after a fatal car accident, a Gauteng woman was discovered alive inside a mortuary fridge by forensic officers.
The woman was travelling along the P111 outside Carletonville during the early hours of last Sunday, when the driver of the car lost control of the vehicle, which rolled. Two other occupants who were in the car were killed.
The mis-declaration, done by Distress Assist ambulance service paramedics, is being investigated by the Gauteng health department. The accident was also attended by ER24 paramedics who declared the other two patients dead.
A Carletonville mortuary source said his colleagues had loaded the bodies in the fridges and were filling in forms when one returned to check on them.
“When he pulled out the woman’s body, he saw that she was breathing.”
He said his colleague immediately rushed her to a hospital in Carletonville.
“She was then transferred to Leratong Hospital in Krugersdorp where she is currently.”
He said they could not understand how she had been declared dead.
“Paramedics are trained to determine death, not us. You never expect to open a fridge and find someone there alive. Can you image if we had begun the autopsy and killed her.”
Distress Alert operations manager, Gerrit Bradnick, confirmed their paramedics had declared the woman dead.
He said their paramedics received a call about the accident, and were told that an ambulance from a different service had collided with the vehicle which had rolled in an earlier accident and was stuck in the middle of the road
“The paramedics from the ambulance which was involved in the accident found the bodies outside the vehicle. They were ejected when the vehicle first rolled.”
Bradnick, who also responded to the scene, said he, along with the other paramedics, started to do scene safety.
“The other paramedics had already done primary checks to see who was injured and who was not. They had already covered the bodies of the dead.”
He said because of the chaos he called his ambulance crew for assistance. Bradnick added that after the injured were transported to hospital, they realised no one had done the paperwork on the bodies.
“My team did the paperwork on two of the bodies. This lady had severe and multiple injuries. The injuries, especially to her head, were so bad you could not work out her age or size.”
He said they followed all the protocols to check for life, including looking for signs of a pulse and breathing.
“A number of things can influence the detection of life, including cold, alcohol, drugs and injuries. Equipment used to determine life showed no form of life on the woman.”
Bradnick said when they were alerted by the hospital in Carletonville that the woman was alive, they immediately began an investigation.
“This did not happen because our paramedics are not properly trained. There is no proof of any negligence by our crew. An advanced life support paramedic from another ambulance service witnessed the death declaration form.”
He said no paramedic set out to deliberately declare someone dead. Bradnick said they would co-operate with any investigation. Gauteng forensic pathology services CEO Paul Morule confirmed the department was conducting an investigation and that officials were in contact with the family of the woman who was in hospital.
“The outcome of the investigation will be reported to the regulatory body. It is not the duty of forensic pathology officers to declare death. Their role by law is to collect the bodies and transport them.”