Joshua Fleuelling—who lived in the suburbs of Toronto in central Canada—was 18 years old when he died. For many years, he had had asthma, a chronic disease that affects breathing. He had a serious attack late on Friday evening, January 14, 2000. He used a respirator to help him breathe, as he usually did when this happened, but this time it didn’t work. About 1:00 a.m., he collapsed, and his mother called 911. The ambulance arrived eight minutes later. Just after they arrived, Joshua’s heart stopped beating. The ambulance crew was at the Fleuelling’s house for 11 minutes. While they were there, they tried to get Joshua’s heart going again, but they failed. They continued to work on his heart in the ambulance while they were driving to the Markham-Stouffville hospital. The trip took eighteen minutes.
In the hospital, doctors succeeded in getting Joshua’s heart started. But his brain had been damaged because of a lack of oxygen and a day later he was declared dead even though his heart was still beating. He remained on life support until his organs could be removed and used for transplants.
The Markham-Stouffville hospital was not the closest hospital to Joshua Fleuelling’s home. The closest one was Grace Hospital, only a ten-minute ride away. The ambulance driver didn’t take Joshua there, however, because Grace Hospital was on ‘critical care bypass’. This means that, because the emergency department was very busy, it wasn’t accepting any more patients—not even those in danger of dying. No one will ever know whether Joshua would have lived if he could have been taken to Grace Hospital.
Serious staff reductions began in Toronto area hospitals a few years before Joshua’s death and they caused a lot of controversy. But this was the first time the system might have cost someone their life. The day after Joshua died ‘Toronto Ambulance Services’ changed the rules. They decided that, in the future, if an ambulance crew thought a patient was dying they would take them to the closest hospital even if its emergency department was on ‘critical care bypass.’
January 29, 2001, Bradley Fleuelling, Joshua’s father announced that the family was suing ‘Toronto Ambulance Services’ and the hospital, because, they say, their son did not get proper care. Mr Fleuelling did not say how much money the family would be asking for.
- information from Toronto Star, 00.01.16 and 01.01.30