BROOKLYN, NY — The grieving relatives of an elderly woman mistakenly declared dead Saturday by city paramedics suggested that her death in a Brooklyn hospital yesterday could have been prevented if not for the blunder.

Frances Foster, 77, lay untreated for hours after being left for dead in the bathroom of her Park Slope apartment Saturday. A medical examiner's official finally discovered that the retired nurse was alive when she moved and opened her eyes as he tried to put her into a body bag.

She opened her eyes as a medical examiner tried to put her into a body bag.

The great-grandmother was taken to New York Methodist Hospital, where she died early yesterday without regaining consciousness.

"She suffered so long, to have someone so beautiful die like that, it's so painful," said Foster's sister, Rose Fowler, 74. "They might have saved her life, but they left her there cold and in pain. We're heartbroken."

Foster's granddaughter, Doris Littlejohn, added: "We're ... devastated. Emotionally we've been so up and down."

The hospital said Foster never recovered from a stroke she suffered sometime before she was found Saturday — 10 days after she last spoke to her daughter. An autopsy was scheduled for today.

Allan Cooke and Carlos Mullin, the Emergency Medical Service technicians who made the error, have been placed on desk duty pending an investigation by the Fire Department and the state Health Department, an FDNY spokesman said.

A top union official defended the men, saying they were distraught over the women's death and had sought help from FDNY counselors.

Mullin, 23, a rookie who began work last fall, was very upset, said Donald Faeth, vice president of Local 2507, which represents the city's 2,600 emergency medical technicians.

"He told me, 'If I had any idea or any indication that she was alive, I definitely would have worked her up and brought her to the hospital,'" Faeth said. "He said this was a complete shock to him."

Standard Tests
Mullin and Cooke, 39, an EMT since 1987, told superiors they performed several tests before wrongly concluding that Foster was dead.

Based on their accounts, Faeth said, the EMTs followed proper procedures.

Cooke, the first to reach Foster, described her as lifeless. He said he detected a strong odor, like decomposing flesh.

He said Foster's eyes were slightly open but fixed. On the skin of her right arm, Cooke said, he saw purplish coloring that comes when blood isn't circulating. He checked for a pulse in the carotid artery in her neck but found none, he said.

Mullin said he tried for 30 seconds to find a pulse in Foster's carotid artery, then for another half-minute pressed his hand against her chest but felt no heartbeat. He said there was no flexibility when he tried moving her left leg, and he noticed that her fingernails were purple.

"She just presented so many signs that I think that any medical professional that went in there would have a difficult time making a different presumptive diagnosis," said Faeth.


Dead Wrong:
Associated Press, Feb 8, 2002
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