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January 29, 2006

BehindTheMedspeak: Defibrillators can kill


Though lauded for their potentially life–saving capability, these devices are not toys.

Consider the tragic story of Joshua Philip Martin and Courtney Hilton Rhoton, a 23–year–old mother of two small children who had worked her way through school to become an emergency medical technician in Russell County, Virginia.

Rex Bowman's January 24 Richmond Times–Dispatch story relates what can happen when a defibrillator is used on a person with a beating heart.

    New EMT Convicted in Fatal Prank

    Though warned, he shocked a co-worker with a defibrillator

    Joshua Philip Martin was in his fourth day on the job as a rescue-squad worker in Russell County when, in a playful mood, he decided to reach into the front seat of the ambulance and zap one of his co-workers with the defibrillator paddles.

    The rookie's mistake was fatal.

    Yesterday, in Russell Circuit Court, a judge convicted Martin, 25, of involuntary manslaughter, warning the burly but pink-faced young man that when he returns to court in March, he likely will be sent to prison.

    He faces a maximum sentence of 10 years.

    The target of Martin's prank was Courtney Hilton Rhoton, a 23-year-old mother of two small children who had worked her way through school to become an emergency medical technician [EMT].

    She went into cardiac arrest seconds after Martin placed the paddles on her chest and shoulder.

    Three days later, on June 4, she died.

    After watching bailiffs lead Martin off to jail yesterday, the mothers of Rhoton and Martin stood at opposite ends of a narrow courthouse hallway and wept, one for the loss of her daughter, the other for the fate of her son.

    All agreed Martin had meant no harm, though none derived comfort from the thought.

    "If they just knew Josh!" his mother, Diana White, exclaimed between sobs.

    "He just made a mistake. Everybody plays on the job, even cops. But with this one, it caught up. He's going to pay for it for the rest of his life."

    "He was just playing around," Martin's aunt, Karen Martin, said.

    "Anybody who knows him knows this was not intentional."

    Rhoton's mother, Sandra Davenport, could not summon words to express her grief, except to say: "Everybody loved her."

    In the courtroom minutes earlier, Martin had stood with his hands deep in his pants pockets and pleaded no contest to the charge against him, allowing Russell prosecutor Mike Bush to summarize the evidence without calling witnesses.

    According to Bush, if the case had gone to trial, a witness would have testified that Martin, an EMT, was in the back of a Highlands Ambulance Service ambulance on June 1 when he first picked up the paddles of the manual defibrillator.

    Defibrillators are used to restore heartbeats, but they can also stop a heart.

    Martin, though an EMT, was not yet qualified to use the defibrillator and had been told it is not something to play with, Bush said.

    Rhoton was in the front passenger seat of the ambulance, and driver Michael Coleman was heading south on U.S. 19 in Lebanon when Coleman heard Rhoton tell Martin not to touch her "with that," Bush said.

    Coleman looked back to see Martin putting the paddles away.

    But shortly afterward, Bush said, Coleman heard the "sound of a shock" and heard Rhoton yell: "Oh my God, Mike, he shocked me!"

    Seconds later she stiffened and then went limp.

    Coleman frantically tried to hold her slumping body up while driving and calling the private ambulance company's office.

    Rhoton, who had been an EMT for one year, never regained consciousness.

    She left behind two children, Christopher and Tamra, now 6 and 4.

    Yesterday, the families of the two EMTs passed each other in the hallway as they left the courtroom.

    Rhoton's sister, Chanda Lawson, 30, expressed bitterness as she watched the Martin family cry: "They're crying because he's going to jail, but my sister's not coming back."

    Karen Martin overheard the comment and blurted out: "Josh is a good kid! A good kid!"

    January 29, 2006 at 10:01 AM | Permalink


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    This topic hasn't even been looked at in years, until now that is.

    I truly feel sorry for the family & children who lost a loved one due to Josh's actions. I cannot express how horrible I feel about the loss of a mother to those two innocent children.

    At the same time though, people might want to get it straight.

    >Josh Martin is my brother. He's quite a bit older than me, & I had just started high school when this happened. I love Josh. He's a good person, works hard, & isn't the most mature of people. He's always acted like a big kid. He's always joked around. He's always poked at me and aggravated me. Everyone has a personality, & that just so happens to be Josh's personality.

    I wouldn't dare ever say that what he did wasn't wrong. It was. Josh goes too far with jokes sometimes.

    The other side of the story though?

    Josh didn't turn on the defibrillators to my knowledge. They were actually already turned on. The crew in the ambulance before Josh & the others got in had left them on, again, to my knowledge.

    At the same time though, did anyone see the news break a few months later? A defibrillator recall? Hm, the same kind of defibrillator that was installed in the ambulance that Josh was in.

    Like my family said, you would have to know Josh. He's a big kid at heart, and despite his mistakes, he has, and always will be a good person, and my brother.

    Again, my family is truly deeply sorry for the loss of the family's loved one. Nothing we, or Josh, could ever do could make up for this loss. No one has defended Josh. Our family has only felt sorry for the young lady's family, and especially her children. No one deserves to die, no one.

    Posted by: Hm. | Aug 15, 2009 9:56:21 PM

    "an innocent mistake" or "sheer stupidity" is no fucking excuse whatsoever!!! The fucking asshole was not a 2 yr old playing with something he knew nothing about! He was a grown fucking man and was TOLD not to mess around with the defibrillator. I have been EMT certified and worked as a police officer for 8 years. Even BEFORE my training, I knew better than that!! What he did WAS a crime, not an innocent mistake! He had wanton disregard for the life of another and was negligent in his acts and showed pathetic irresponsibility, not to mention he'd only been on the job 4 fucking days and was already being insubordinate (not listeneing to their orders to stop messing around with the defibrillator). But even if it WERE that the guy was simply stupid and lacked mature, responsible judgement, why was he hired??!! OK, true, maybe this fatality could not have been forseen. But I honestly think it could have been prevented. I'm sure the asshole was probably told not to touch any equipment, but he shoud have also signed an agreement that failure to comply would result in immediate suspension/termination. Even a stupid little act like this may have prevented the horrible incident. The asshole should have been IMMEDIATELY suspended and ordered to leave AS SOON AS HE PICKED UP THE DEFIBRILLATOR! It's not something to take lighlty, as it is SERIOUS! He had no fucking business doing that! That's like a rookie in the police academy picking up a firearm, without first being certified! SIMPLE BASIC TRAINING AND SAFETY PRECAUTIONS!!! Anybody that can't rember or can't comprehend BASIC SAFETY ORDERS obviously do not have the brains to continue their "training" I'm sorry, but he should have been terminated much earlier. Was he not fucking told to NEVER TOUCH EQUIPMENT unless instructed by a supervisor, or supervised, or COMPLETED TRAINING AND PROBATION?!! He SHOULD HAVE gotten 10 years! God damn asshole! If he CARED the slightest bit, he would have THOUGHT for a fucking second what his actions may cause.

    Posted by: samara | Feb 27, 2008 9:30:12 AM

    It just doesn't work that way. If this was the case, then everyone could just live forever by being shocked when they die. A defibrillator is a de fibrill ator it can only reverse fibrillation, either atrial or ventrical. Television makes these machines out to be used when a patient "flat lines" what is technically called asystole, but sadly it's not the case. While it's true that everyone plays around on the job, the type of playing around on this job would be switching on the siren so that it blares when the key is turned, or smearing KY Jelly (used in various medical procedures) under the door latch, but NEVER should any piece of equipment be used when you do not have training on such. It is clear that the boy at fault was not trained, but in the training he did have, he most certainly knew better than to use this machine because he certainly knew what it was capable of doing. I must also say that another prank one would never do in this field would be anything to hinder patient care, like hiding the keys to an ambulance, removing equipment as a joke such as an oxygen tank, and most importantly calling in a prank call as this ties up personnel when they could be needed at another legitimate location.

    Posted by: former EMT | Mar 15, 2006 3:47:19 AM

    Oh my God, this is one of the saddest situations I've ever heard of. I feel terrible for everyone involved, although it does seem a little wierd that an EMT wouldn't realize how serious that would be.
    Speaking as someone with no training, I immediately wondered why they couldn't just use the defibrillator to start her heart after it stopped?

    Posted by: Babs | Jan 30, 2006 11:52:16 AM

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