Man Dies at Home After Paramedics Diagnose Acid Reflux

By Elissa Silverman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 4, 2008

A 39-year-old Northeast Washington man died yesterday, a few hours after paramedics responding to his complaints of chest pains and trouble breathing told him he had acid reflux and did not take him to a hospital, family members said.

D.C. fire officials are investigating the circumstances surrounding the death of Edward L. Givens, who was found by family members just before 6 a.m. in his home in the 700 block of Division Avenue. Paramedics told Givens late Tuesday that he had acid reflux, instructed him to take Pepto-Bismol and left, family members said.

"I don't understand the paramedics, why, when he said he was in chest discomfort, he wasn't taken to the hospital," said Lolitha Givens, the man's mother, who lives in the home and was there when 911 was called Tuesday night. "I'm just baffled by that."

Paramedics are required by department protocol to transport by ambulance a patient who asks to go to a hospital, said Alan Etter, a spokesman for D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services.

Officials said the D.C. medical examiner will conduct an autopsy to determine a cause of death.

The department has launched an investigation into the call, Etter said. He said that the department will interview all personnel who responded and that top officials are involved in the review, including Fire Chief Dennis L. Rubin and Assistant Fire Chief Lawrence Schultz.

"As per protocol, we are conducting a thorough quality assurance case review, and we will determine whether proper care was provided and if the two medical events are related," Rubin said in a written statement.

Lolitha Givens said her son was in the living room Tuesday night when he yelled out to family members to call 911. He was on his back on the floor and said he had chest pains and was having trouble breathing.

A firetruck and ambulance from Engine 30 were dispatched to the house at 11:40 p.m., Etter said. The truck, staffed by three firefighters trained in emergency medicine and a firefighter-paramedic, arrived first.

Lolitha Givens said the firefighters asked her son what was wrong, and the emergency medical technicians who arrived by ambulance checked his vital signs and performed an electrocardiogram, the results of which they said were normal.

The EMTs asked Givens whether he had eaten or had anything to drink that evening, and he said he had eaten a burger, Givens said. They told him and his mother that he probably was suffering from acid reflux and suggested he take antacid.

"Six hours later, my son was on the floor, dead," Lolitha Givens said.

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