Doubts over death

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Hospital works on victim after paramedics stop.

There’s doubt over whether a Queenstown jetboat victim was dead on arrival at hospital – and whether paramedics worked on her long enough beforehand.

Chinese tourist Yan Wang, 42, was killed when a Kawarau Jet boat flipped in the river on September 25 last year.

The driver and 21 other passengers escaped without serious injury and rescuers thought everyone was OK – but 90 minutes later Wang was found under the upturned craft. As part of ongoing inquiries, Mountain Scene sought Official Information from Southland District Health Board, which runs Queenstown’s Lakes District Hospital.

Among material released is a heavily-censored report of a hospital debrief the day after the tragedy. The report’s author appears to be Sandra Miller, SDHB’s “major incident emergency planner”.

Copies of the report have gone to LDH staff, St John’s district operations manager and staff at Queenstown Medical Centre, which had two doctors helping at LDH during the emergency.

Miller reveals it was the police who brought Wang into LDH. “Ambulance staff were not in a hurry to bring the patient into the hospital,” she writes.

“[Police] needed to have the ‘deceased’ verified by a doctor.”

Miller then makes clear why she puts single quotes around ‘deceased’ – doctors couldn’t be entirely sure Wang was dead.

“[A] LDH doctor not comfortable with [verifying death] as the history of the circumstances relating to this ‘death’ (sic) was unclear.

“What came first, the drowning or the hypothermia?” asks Miller. “How long had the patient been in the water, how long had the ambulance staff tried to resuscitate the patient?

“This history was critical in the decision to enable verification of death.”

Consulting Southland Hospital, “medical staff made the decision to … attempt to resuscitate the patient”.

The hospital worked on Wang for a full 90 minutes, the same amount of time she was under the jetboat.

“The patient was closely monitor­­ed as staff used various means to slowly warm the patient while CPR was continuously administered … [until] after one-and-a-half hours, the call was made to cease resuscitation.”

An official whose name is blacked out is “engaged in discussions with St John Ambulance regarding the transportation of casualties from the incident site…”

An action plan in the report also lists one “issue” as “pre-hospital treatment questions” – “seek clarification from St John management on these questions”.

With about 30 per cent of Miller’s report censored by SDHB, Mountain Scene approached a reliable medical source familiar with the jetboat incident aftermath.

The medical source can’t be named because of employment contract restrictions.

Had paramedics given Wang up for dead before she was brought to LDH?

“Either that or they felt the chance of a positive outcome was too low, bearing in mind other victims needed attention.”

The source understands LDH staff felt there could be a slim chance of survival so they recommenced CPR.

But St John Central Otago district operations boss Pete Grayland says Queenstown paramedics – including an “advanced” and “up-skilled” paramedic plus an ambulance officer – worked on Wang in a “full cardiac arrest scenario”, using a defibrillator, CPR and oxygen therapy at the scene for 45 minutes.

Advanced paramedics are legally allowed to declare “life extinct”, he says – and the Queenstown officer did so after their efforts. “St John staff did nothing wrong,” says Grayland. “They are highly trained, they are highly skilled. You can’t fault their integrity.

“They got called to an incident, they did everything they could for the deceased, as well as the other patients, and you can’t blame us for the result of somebody dying.

“We’re not God, we can’t bring people back to life if it’s not to be. We go to a lot of cardiac arrests, some are revivable and some aren’t.”

Does the confidential medical source think St John staff should have maintained CPR until Wang reached hospital? “I’m not going to answer that question, that’s for the coroner’s inquiry.”