'My wife could have been saved if I'd been told the ambulance was coming from another town'
A WIDOWER whose wife choked to death while they waited for an ambulance to arrive from another town says her life might have been saved, if he had been told no nearby ambulance was available.
Michael Riordan says he would have taken his wife Liz (53) to Kerry General Hospital (KGH) in their car if he had known the ambulance was being sent from Listowel, 27km away.
The Riordans were minutes from the hospital at the time.
Mrs Riordan, from Direen, Cahersiveen, died at KGH yesterday week – the day after her 53rd birthday – four days after she choked on a piece of food at a local restaurant.
Although the couple was less than a mile from KGH at the time, they had to wait more than 20 minutes for the ambulance.
When she was taken to hospital, Mrs Riordan was put on a life support machine but never regained consciousness.
Her husband had to make the heart-wrenching decision last week to switch off the machine.
He wants an inquiry into procedures that led to the ambulance being sent from Listowel by the control centre in Dublin.
"If I had known it was coming from Listowel, I would have driven her to hospital myself," Mr Riordan told the Irish Independent.
"If I had done that, the outcome might have been very different."
Mrs Riordan had Myotonic Dystrophy from birth, a progressive muscle-wasting condition, and for the past five years her husband had been her full-time carer, giving up his job with Kerry County Council to look after her.
They were married for 14 years had been enjoying a day out and lunch in Tralee when Mrs Riordan began to choke on her food. "She indicated to me that she couldn't breath so I did the taps on the back. She indicated to me she couldn't talk and wanted to head back to the car."
When sitting in the car, he said Liz "slouched" over and he called the ambulance. She still had a strong pulse at this stage.
His mobile phone shows an emergency call was made at 3.36pm. The HSE's National Ambulance Service (NAS) says the call was received at 3.39pm and the ambulance arrived at 3.59pm.
It confirmed that at the time the call was received, all local emergency resources were engaged in other calls and the nearest available emergency resource was in Listowel.
Mr Riordan insists it was 4.05pm before the ambulance arrived.
"I was trying to explain to them where the restaurant and the Castlemaine Road were and they told me the ambulance was on its way," he added.
Mr Riordan, a trained first aid responder, then began performing CPR on his wife on the tarmac of the car park. He handed the phone to another person who continued to talk to the controller in Dublin who was counting the compressions.
"They (the person on the phone) kept asking where the ambulance was because we knew we were only a few minutes from the hospital and we were told, 'It's on its way, it's on its way'," he said.
When the paramedics arrived they used suction equipment to remove the blockage and used a defibrillator. Liz was stabilised at the A&E department at KGH before being transferred to the intensive care unit, where she died four days later.
"We knew she was brain dead. There was no response from any stimulus," her husband added.
"She was in the car and we could have been down at the hospital within two minutes and within the 11 minute timeframe of getting air to her.
"I just can't understand why being in the capital town of the county there was no ambulance service available. If I had been told that I could have been at the hospital within a few minutes there might have been a different result.
"But we had to wait and wait and wait," he added.
The HSE statement said the Ambulance Service worked on an area and national basis, as opposed to a local basis.
It said the "dynamic deployment" of emergency ambulance resources ensured the nearest appropriate resources were mobilised to the location of incidents.
It also said the NAS operated an "advanced medical priority dispatch system" that ensured life-threatening situations received "an immediate and appropriate response".