Response time at issue in Ky. mother's death


Shawntaye Hopkins | | Thursday, June 28, 2007

DANVILLE, Ky. A 69-year-old mother who loved to smile and couldn't get enough of Sam's Club pressed her Phillips Lifeline medical alert button for help -- she was having a heart attack.

Lifeline associates responded over a speaker, but Christine Talley of Danville couldn't answer. The medical alert service tried to contact relatives and left phone messages. But if relatives aren't contacted, Lifeline representatives are supposed to contact emergency help immediately.

That didn't happen, said Jim Talley, 41, of Danville.

This past Memorial Day, Jim Talley found his mother less than five minutes after she pressed the button she religiously wore on a necklace. She was fully dressed and slumped over her bathroom tub, unconscious.

He called an ambulance. He said Lifeline didn't contact emergency responders until after Talley was taken to an emergency room more than a half-hour later. His mother did not survive.

"It's unreal what happened," Talley said.

Now he wants to ensure the same thing doesn't happen to another family that is counting on Lifeline, and he's asked lawmakers for help.

He plans to meet Tuesday with Rep. Mike Harmon, R-Junction City, and others in Frankfort to discuss legislation for government oversight of the company.

Harmon said he was surprised to learn Phillips Lifeline is not governed by any federal or state boards.

"I certainly think in matters of life and death ... there needs to be a set policy and procedure" with state or federal oversight," Harmon said.

But the service should remain affordable, he said.

Jim Talley paid about $35 a month for the service. His mother had used Lifeline since around October.

Talley expects a Lexington cardiologist, some members of Danville-Boyle County EMS and a representative of Governor Ernie Fletcher's Office to attend the meeting Tuesday.

About 550,000 people subscribe to Phillips Lifeline in the United States.

"Overall, our service is very effective," said Sheree Ford, manager of marketing and channel communications for Phillips Lifeline based in Framingham, Mass.

She would not comment specifically on the Talleys case, citing privacy regulations.

Ford said trained employees attempt to notify a subscriber when the alert button is pressed.

If that person can't respond, associates contact relatives listed in the subscriber's personal database. Relatives can then check on their loved one.

If Lifeline can't reach relatives listed in the database, associates will contact emergency responders.

Ford said families can opt to have associates call emergency responders before contacting relatives.

Two messages were left for Jim Talley's wife, Debbie.

But Lifeline spent too much time waiting for a response, Jim Talley said.

Jim and Debbie Talley, a registered nurse, performed CPR on Christine Talley when they arrived at her home about five minutes after she pressed the Lifeline button at 11:23 a.m. on Memorial Day.

They were picking her up to visit her late-husband's grave site.

She gained consciousness for a few seconds before the ambulance her son called arrived.

"That's three to four seconds of my life that I will never forget," Jim Talley said.

Those seconds were important, Talley said, because emergency responders with proper tools might have been able to keep his mother conscious longer.

She'd even tried to speak, Jim Talley said.

Just after noon, a Lifeline associate left a second message for Debbie Talley, asking them to check on Christine Talley. Lifeline also tried to reach Jim Talley.

With no answer, Lifeline then called 911.

But it was too late, Jim Talley says.

Christine Talley was pronounced dead in the emergency room at Ephraim McDowell Regional Medical Center in Danville.

The Talleys plan to eventually take their cause to lawmakers in Washington, D.C.

"I don't want it to happen to another family," Jim Talley said. "That's what my mom would want me to do."

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