Twenty minutes after medics pronounced a Florida man dead, he started breathing again. It was a shock to everyone at the scene, including his daughter, who was on the phone telling relatives her father had died. “It was just a trip, man,” Thomas Maxwell, 66, told The Washington Post. “Not that I even recall it, but my God.” But the story isn’t just a bizarre medical anecdote. Now there’s talk of a lawsuit, two medics are facing disciplinary action, and Maxwell has suffered physical effects from being without oxygen. Read on to find out what happened that morning and in the weeks after.
After midnight on Feb. 15, Maxwell’s daughter Phebe, 43, said she heard a thump from her dad’s room. When she checked on him, Thomas was lying on the floor. He thought he’d fallen because of his sciatica, which causes leg pain. Thomas declined her offer of help and said he’d get back into bed in a few minutes. Around 10 a.m., Phebe found her dad in the same position, but his lips were blue, and his body was cold, she told the Post. Phebe’s mother, Karla, called 911 while Phebe performed CPR.
When Clearwater Fire and Rescue medics responded about 10 minutes later, Phebe said one squatted near Thomas’s head and declared him dead, without performing any tests. Phebe said she told the medic her dad was breathing, but he replied that Thomas’s body was just “releasing its gases.” The medic grabbed Thomas’s arm for about 10 seconds to check for a pulse, Phebe said, but he reaffirmed that Thomas had died. Phebe said he told her to stop CPR, the Post reported.
When a deputy with the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office arrived, the medics left. While Phebe was on the phone sharing news of her father’s passing with relatives, the deputy noticed Thomas was still breathing and had a pulse, the sheriff’s office said in a statement. The deputy called medics from a different department, and they came to the house with a defibrillator, Phebe said. They attended her father and rushed him to a nearby hospital.
“If it weren’t for that deputy, my dad could’ve suffocated unnecessarily, could’ve woken up in the morgue,” Phebe told the Post. “I wouldn’t have my dad sitting here next to me, and that scares me. You’re supposed to trust these people.” Phebe said her father was unattended for about 28 minutes after her mother’s call to 911. The Clearwater Fire and Rescue say they’re reviewing the incident.
The two medics involved have been suspended from patient care and were reassigned to desk duty. “Our first responders proudly serve our community each and every day, and they are expected to help people when they need it the most,” Jennifer Poirrier, Clearwater’s interim manager, told the Post in a statement. “When this does not occur at the level at which we expect, it is incumbent upon us to determine exactly what happened, why it happened, and then ensure it will never happen again.”
At the hospital, Thomas was placed on a ventilator. Doctors told Phebe he had suffered cardiac arrest, respiratory failure and injuries to his kidney, arteries and lungs. Phebe didn’t think he’d wake up. But he did, two days later. Thomas has been experiencing memory problems since the incident, Phebe told the Post. He doesn’t recognize once-favorite music or his previously expert topics of conversation; at one point, he failed to recognize her. He has been suffering from mood swings, slower speech and poor sleep, Phebe said. She is exploring legal action against Clearwater Fire and Rescue, she said.