Angie Robinson of Tacoma had just finished grabbing a bite to eat when her phone rang. The caller wanted to know if she was JayQwan Harris’ mom.
“She told me ‘Your son had a seizure. He’s unresponsive. We have called an ambulance,’” Robinson recalled.
The frightened mother rushed home and got her husband. Together they beat the ambulance to the emergency room at Tacoma General Hospital.
After waiting a bit, she was led back to a room where she expected to find her 20-year-old son. But when she got there, she was shocked.
“That’s not our baby,” she said.
The boy on the gurney was 16-year-old Daequan Samuels.
Daequan, still dealing with the effects of a head injury after being hit by a car in 2009, had suffered a seizure while taking a test at school April 10.
As the emergency unfolded and medical help was summoned, an instructor at Northwest Career and Technical High School pulled the wrong paperwork out of a three-ring binder containing student emergency information, school officials acknowledge.
As a result, the wrong mom got the phone call every parent fears.
Daequan’s mom, Dineen Smith, said she wasn’t notified until 90 minutes after the 911 calls. And she finds that unacceptable.
“They could have checked his ID,” she said of Daequan, who wears a student photo identification badge on campus. “They could have checked the chart at school with all of Daequan’s emergency information.”
She says her son could have received the wrong medication before she reached him. Without someone knowing his medical history, she said, “a 90-minute mistake could have cost my son his life.”
“I was so upset,” Smith recalled. “It took me back to the day he was hit by a car.”
The mistaken identity was resolved after a Tacoma General nurse realized what had happened. She went through the teen’s backpack and found his name, then searched the hospital database, Smith said.
The nurse found contact information from a past visit to the Tacoma General health system, where Daequan had received rehabilitation services following his 2009 accident, his mom said.
Smith had specified in school records that in an emergency, her son should be taken either to St. Clare Hospital in Lakewood or Madigan Army Medical Center. Instead, he wound up in a Tacoma emergency room.
Smith’s attorney, Ken Burton of Seattle, said he’s researching a possible legal remedy for the school mistake.
In the meantime, Smith said, she wants assurances that the school her son attends will put new procedures in place to make sure something like this doesn’t happen again.
Northwest Career and Technical High School is operated by Clover Park Technical College in Lakewood. Principal Loren Davis said he learned of the mistake the morning after the seizure when he called Smith to find out how her son was doing. The dismayed principal wrote a letter of apology to Smith the same day.
Davis said he investigated and talked with school personnel about taking steps to ensure a misidentification error doesn’t occur again. He said the instructor knew where to find parent contact information, but that she mistakenly grabbed information for a student with a similar-sounding first name.
With the start of a new quarter, Daequan and other students had been in the class 10 days, said college spokesman Shawn Jennison.
“Every student in the class was a new student for these instructors,” he said. He said two new procedures will be implemented for students at Northwest Career and Technical High School. Emergency contact information will be placed on the back of badges for students in Daequan’s nursing-assistant program. And campus-wide, photos of each student will be printed out and attached to their emergency information in the binder.
Smith said she was especially disturbed to learn of the recent mistake because she had filed a complaint in 2010 with the U.S. Department of Education when her son was a special-education student at Clover Park High School.
Smith said Daequan was accused – falsely, she believes – by another student of misconduct in a swimming class that resulted in his arrest. Smith said Daequan received a short-term suspension and had to do community service, but that the original allegations were reduced.
As a result of her complaint to the federal agency, Clover Park School District said it reviewed procedures to ensure students are carefully monitored during swimming classes. The district also promised to notify a parent if Daequan was removed from campus for any reason, and to call a parent “as soon as possible” in case of emergency.
Unfortunately, she said, that information apparently didn’t follow her son when he switched to his new school on the college campus.
Smith said she’s been otherwise pleased with the college’s high school. She said the school placed someone in class with Daequan who helps him take notes.
QUESTION NO. 39
The April 10 episode was the first seizure for Daequan.
The teen said he remembers taking the test. He even remembers getting to question No. 39 before the seizure took hold. He was feeling strange and said he heard his heart pounding.
“I looked down. I looked up. I stood up and tried to walk – and I fell,” he said.
Daequan is going through a series of follow-up medical tests, and he’s not allowed to drive for a while – standard procedure when a person has a seizure.
But he’s trying to stay upbeat, as his mom says he’s been ever since he was injured. He was once passionate about dancing, and performed with a dance team. But he had to give that up after the accident.
He’s determined to succeed in school. He hopes to pursue a career in anesthesiology.
“I always wanted to be in the medical field since I was little,” he said.
And just in case there’s another emergency, Smith wants to make sure she gets a call. She recently bought her son a set of dog tags and a medical information bracelet that includes her contact information.
“Parents need to be advocates for their kids,” she said, “because nobody else is going to step up.”
Debbie Cafazzo: 253-597-8635 email@example.com