By Mikala Jamison
June Petroski said her son Thomas had asthma since he was 2 months old. Doctors once told her, she said, that he was “allergic to everything in the Western hemisphere.”
It was that severe asthma that led Petroski to call an ambulance for her son on Oct. 14, 2012.
“He had asthma attacks all the time, and he always waited until the last minute to go to the hospital if he thought he really needed to, because he hated going to the hospital,” Petroski said of her son, who was called Tommy.
Tommy walked up to his mother that day and told her to call an ambulance, because he “wouldn’t make the car ride,” she said.
Less than an hour later, Thomas John Petroski, 22, was dead. He died from acute exacerbation of asthma, according to his death certificate.
June said that she believes her son’s death was a result of negligence on the part of the two paramedics who responded to the 911 call on the day of Tommy’s death — Sadie Smith and Michelle Roche. Neither Smith nor Roche could be reached for comment.
A Fire Department source did confirm, however, that the two had been “indefinitely detained elsewhere,” to a Mount Airy firehouse. The two were stationed at Medic 10 at 4th Street and Girard Avenue at the time of the 911 call, June said.
June, and the rest of the Petroski family, have made a plea for justice by way of a banner that hangs above the sidewalk at the Petroskis’ Aramingo Avenue home.
It reads: “Justice for the death of our son Tommy Petroski, against the city of Philadelphia paramedics Sadie Smith and Michelle Roche.”
The Petroskis are currently speaking with lawyers, but have not yet filed suit.
Once the banner went up, June said, “all hell broke loose.”
City paramedic services officials have visited the family’s home to ask them to remove the sign, and so has the Department of Licenses and Inspections, which said that the sign is a street hazard that could fall and cause an accident.
Jeremiah Laster, fire paramedic services chief, would not comment when the Northeast Times reached him by phone Friday other than to say that the specifics of the day of Tommy’s death are currently under investigation.
June Petroski said she was told that Roche and Smith were interviewed about the day’s events on Nov. 12, by Laster.
Philadelphia Fire Department executive chief Richard Davison did not respond to an email requesting comment.
Christopher Baldini, fire paramedic captain, could not be reached for comment. June said he personally asked her to remove the sign, and she said, “No, not until I get justice.”
For her, she said, justice comes in the form of the paramedics losing their jobs, pensions, and licenses.
“I also want the laws changed,” she continued. “These people are supposed to be able to save your life. It’s pure negligence.”
The story of the day of her son’s death, according to June Petroski and her husband, Tom, is a tragic one.
Once she called 911, Petroski said the ambulance came within four to five minutes, and the two female paramedics arrived in an ambulance.
“By then,” Petroski said, “My son’s lips were already turning purple.”
The ambulance missed her house, at first, she said, and had to turn around. Once the ambulance parked, Petroski said what the paramedics brought in to the house was a plastic wheelchair, called a stair chair, an oxygen tank, and a black bag of supplies that the Petroskis claim the paramedics never used.
Witnesses present that day — Tom Petroski, Tommy’s sister Kerri Petroski and her boyfriend Michael Donnelly, June’s niece Taylor Muncie, as well as three neighbors — all told the same story when interviewed by attorneys, according to their written statements.
The oxygen tank Roche and Smith brought into the house was empty, they said. Once that became apparent, Tom and June said, the paramedics allowed Michael Donnelly to go into the ambulance to retrieve another oxygen tank, which was then never used.
“They had decided to load him into the ambulance at that point [before they used the second tank],” June said.
Charles DeBonis, the EMS course coordinator for the JeffSTAT EMS education center at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, told the Northeast Times Monday that all vehicle equipment on an ambulance should be checked prior to the beginning of a shift, but depending on the service, that might not happen every day.
“As far as oxygen is concerned, each ambulance needs to have on board oxygen and three portable cylinders” DeBonis said.
He further explained that in the case of paramedics’ response to an asthma attack, oxygen may or may not need to be administered, depending on each situation.
“What’s more likely is that they need to administer medication, albuterol,” he said. “Oxygen will help in the ‘short term,’” DeBonis said, but explained that the bronchial pathways in the patient’s lungs need to be dilated — if the patient’s lungs aren’t open, oxygen won’t necessarily help.
Gary Collins, chief medical examiner with the city’s Health Department, would not comment on the situation when reached by the Northeast Times.
It’s not clear what exactly happened in Tommy Petroski’s case. June Petroski said that the paramedics did administer what’s called a re-breather mask, which is one of the methods for administering oxygen to a patient, according to DeBonis. That re-breather mask, June said, was connected to the oxygen tank that was empty.
June also said that the paramedics’ ambulance record is incorrect. It says that the paramedics obtained an EKG, hooked Tommy up to an IV, and administered medication to him, all before loading him into the ambulance at 3:03 p.m. that day. June said the paramedics did none of those things before taking her son to the hospital.
The Petroskis said that the paramedics also had trouble lifting Tommy — who weighed 156 pounds — and needed help from Tom Petroski and a neighbor.
By the time Tommy was brought outside, June said, “his eyes were blank, and rolling back in his head.”
He was then loaded into the ambulance and taken to Temple University Episcopal Hospital.
At the hospital, Petroski said, she was told Thomas had gone into cardiac arrest from being unable to breathe for so long. Hospital staff had opened up his lungs and his airways, but couldn’t get his heart to start again.
Tommy was, by all accounts, a standup kid. His mother said he was an avid soccer player all four years at North Catholic High School. He was godfather to his young nephew. He attended Gwynedd-Mercy College for three years, studying business and then criminal justice.
“I want discipline, I want justice,” Tom Petroski said.
The Petroskis visited the office of state Rep. John Taylor on Friday, Nov. 15. June Petroski said she wants to talk about getting laws changed in regard to how long paramedics have to train.
Marc Collazzo, district office manager for Taylor’s office, said in an email he could not comment beyond saying that the office is “reviewing EMT and paramedic protocols to determine if and how they can be improved to avoid another tragedy such as this.” ••