Autopsy shows patient died before fire broke out at Durham Regional

tmcdonald@newsobserver.comFebruary 14, 2013 

— A 39-year-old man had already died when fire broke out in his room where he was being treated late last year at a long-term care facility at Durham Regional Hospital, according to a pathologist with the State Medical Examiner’s Officer.

The fire Nov. 6 ignited as medical staffers were using defibrillation equipment in an attempt to restart the heart of Casper Tawan Simon Jr., who went into cardiac arrest after physicians completed surgery to repair a weakened area in his aorta, pathologist Clay Nichols said Thursday.

“What happened was, essentially, after the surgery, the patient went into cardiac arrest while in recovery,” Nichols said.

Medical staffers attempted to restart Casper’s heart four times. On the fourth attempt the defibrillation equipment short-circuited and caused a fire in Casper’s room on the sixth floor of Durham Regional, where a company called Select Specialty Hospitals cares for critically ill patients in a 30-bed, separately licensed, long-term care facility.

“The fire had nothing to do with his death,” Nichols said.

Simon was pronounced dead after the fire and suffered superficial electrical burns on his right torso and right upper arm, the state medical examiner reported.

The hospital fire has been under investigation by the state Department of Health and Human Services and the state Department of Labor.

The DHHS investigation has concluded, but its findings were unavailable Thursday, spokesman Jim Jones said. The labor department investigation should be completed by May 6 if not before, spokesman Neal O’Briant said.

A Select Specialty Hospitals employee called 911 at 2:19 a.m. Nov. 6 to report a fire and oxygen explosion in a room where a medical procedure had been taking place.

“We are trying to evacuate every patient, but we have a patient in the room right now. We haven’t been able to get them out yet,” the unidentified caller told the 911 dispatcher.

The sixth-floor sprinkler system and staff members quickly extinguished the flames before firefighters arrived, Durham Regional officials reported.

Other workers on the sixth floor moved 22 seriously ill patients to safety. Twenty more patients were moved to other rooms at the hospital because of water damage caused by the sprinkler systems, officials reported.

Two Select Specialty employees and one employee of Duke Hospital, which owns Durham Regional Hospital, were sent to the emergency room, where they were treated for smoke inhalation and released.

McDonald: 919-829-4533

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