Family of Pregnant Woman Who Died in Ambulance Sues City

The family of a pregnant woman who died in an ambulance nearly two years ago is suing the city of Philadelphia as well as the city’s ambulance manufacturers and maintenance company.

In the wrongful death and infant brain injury lawsuit filed on Thursday, the family alleges that Joanne Rodriguez, a 24-year-old expecting mother, would still be alive today if the Philadelphia paramedics who arrived at her house were properly trained and had proper medical equipment.

On October 1, 2012, paramedics responded to Rodriguez’s Philadelphia home. Rodriguez, who was 9 months pregnant, was having trouble breathing after falling down the stairs. The family says she was asthmatic and on medication for a blood clot.

"I told her (dispatcher) she fell down the steps, she's 37 weeks pregnant, she's hurt, and she's lying down,” said Joanne’s aunt, Carmen Morales. “I told her she was responsive but couldn’t breathe.”

Her family says Medic 22 took three minutes to get from the firehouse to their home. Surveillance video from the family home shows the medics walking into the house without any medical equipment.

"They start looking at my niece and say 'OK ma'am I need you to sit up,'” said Morales. “My niece is telling them, 'Please, I can't breathe, I'm weak, I can't move,' and she was like, 'You need to do your part.' The EMT is telling her she needs to do her part.”

According to the  surveillance video, it took eight minutes for the medics to bring Rodriguez out of the home and another minute before the emergency workers gave her any oxygen.

After Rodriguez was loaded into the ambulance, surveillance video shows it took another seven minutes for the ambulance to leave for Temple University Hospital. Rodriguez's mother rode inside the ambulance with her daughter.

A Fire Department investigation determined it was a total of 20 minutes from the time the medics arrived at the family's house, until reaching Temple University Hospital. Once they arrived, the family says the medics realized the ambulance doors were stuck.

"The EMT says 'Oh my God',” said Morales. “Her heart stops beating, that's when they arrive to the hospital. The other EMT goes around to open the doors, they can't open the doors, the doors are stuck.”

Her aunt says the medics tried to get the door open from the inside and outside. It wasn't until an officer from Temple University Hospital came out to help that they opened the doors.

The Fire Department's investigation found that Rodriguez was stuck for about three and a half minutes, during which a doctor was able to get inside the ambulance through a side door and start working on her. Rodriguez died before they could get her inside the hospital.

Autopsy results found she died of natural causes. Rodriguez's baby, Xavier, was delivered in an emergency cesarean section. The family says the baby suffered a traumatic brain injury as a result.

Her family believes Joanne would still be alive if she had received the urgent care she needed.

"If they would have come here better trained, with all their equipment, oxygen on time, yes, she would have been maybe in the hospital still, but alive," said Morales.

NBC10’s initial report in 2011 triggered a 2 1/2-month internal investigation. On January 8, 2013, Bill Gault, the President of Firefighter’s Union Local 22 announced that both paramedics involved in the incident were suspended for two days.

NBC10 filed a request for the 911 tapes and the incident printout patient care report under the “Right to Know” act. The city denied both requests. City officials claimed 911 tapes, by state law, are exempt from disclosure. They also said they couldn’t release the incident printout or patient care report because of patient confidentiality.

Last year, the Rodriguez family said they were “disappointed” with the city’s decision to not release the 911 recording. They also said they made similar requests which were also denied.

The Rodriguez family will officially announce their lawsuit during a press conference in Center City starting at 1 p.m. The family also plans to share newly released copies of the 911 call, newly released copies of the medics’ response calls, internal investigation documents and photos of Joanne and Xavier.

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