Emergency Crews Decline Comment As State Investigates Cyclist’s Death

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EUREKA SPRINGS (KFSM) – The Eureka Springs Fire Department on Thursday declined comment while state health workers investigate a cyclist’s death from last weekend.

A preliminary state medical examiner report released Monday states a breathing tube placed in Laura Wooldridge’s esophagus by medical crews contributed to her death. The Arkansas Department of Heath announced later in the week it was investigating the incident.

A spokesman for the fire department said Eureka Springs firefighters are cooperating with the state’s investigation, although the medical personnel who tended to Wooldridge’s injuries were employed by AirEvac Life Team, not the Eureka Springs Fire Department.

The department held a meeting Thursday morning, where they asked fire crews to refrain from talking to the public or releasing any more documentation on Wooldridge’s death or the subsequent state investigation, according to the fire department.

Wooldridge, 39, died from esophageal intubation with complicating neck and face trauma, after crashing her mountain bike while cycling the trails near Lake Leatherwood, authorities said.

Wooldridge’s thyroid and larynx were crushed, requiring responding medical crews to place a breathing tube in her neck instead of through the mouth, officials said.

Because medical personnel placed the tube above the crushed thyroid, the tube went down the esophogus, officials said.

The preliminary report was filed Monday (July 21) by Dr. Stephen Erickson.

Wooldridge, of Little Rock, emerged from the woods after her wreck near Lake Leatherwood covered in blood, said bystander Jared Joseph. Joseph said he saw her walk out of a trail carrying her bicycle after the crash.

She was walking and talking without much difficulty, and she was bleeding profusely from her lip and chin area, Joseph said.


  • Bill C

    The paramedics did not kill this poor lady. The staff did the best that they could do considering all the trauma the lady had.

    Im sure her neck would have swollen completely shut in just a few more minutes. Traumatic injuries result in major swelling.
    How do you think these poor paramedics feel? I’m sure they are devastated and did everything in their abilities to save her.
    People do die all the time, young and old, this is horrible for everyone involved including other bikers.
    If people keep smashing the rescue squads, then it won’t be long till no one will cone help you when you call 911.

    • Katie

      I am sure they feel horrible. How do you think her husband and kids feel? And, who do you think this is more devastating too? They (the paramedics and/or EMTs) may very well have caused her death. I am certain they did not mean to, and am also certain they feel horrible. However “that lady”, aka Laura, died in part (scientifically shown) at least in part due to an incorrectly done tracheotomy. As far as EMTs and paramedics ceasing to respond because of being criticized… unlikely.

  • Denise

    I know the family and friends of this lady are grieving and I do not want to diminish that or sound disrespectful because I don’t know how they are feeling or what their opinions are. I have read comments in various Facebook post about this article and I felt as though I need to defend the ems crews. I work in icu and have face difficult airways, swollen airways and facial trauma. During those times I was ‘sweating it” when those patients were intubated. And I wasn’t even the one doing the intubation!! At the hospital we have the benefit of glide scopes, ct scans, and several departments that converge during difficult cases. In the field it’s just the paramedic. Severe crushed airways are a rare occurrence so having any experience dealing with those is much rarer, A larynx and trachea injury is extremely challenging no matter what the setting. The symptoms manifest precipitously. I’m sure the paramedics didn’t take the decision to perform a tracheostomy lightly. The anatomy being what it is after a crush injury is difficult to navigate thus mortality rates high. I know sometimes being called a hero or negligent depends on circumstances outside our control. To all the ems crews out there thank you. The work you do is appreciated.

    • Katie

      The tracheotomy was incorrectly done and Laura died. People make mistakes. Of course her friends are frustrated by the possibility that she died unnecessarily. I am not criticizing the emergency responders, but a mistake was made and Laura died.

      • Denise

        This was not a normal trache this was a emergency trache that involved neck trauma. That means incompetent anatomy with swelling and displacement and lacerations. Paramedics have maybe three minutes to navigate the airway. Colorimetric devices and aspiration devices can give false results that’s why they are not relied on. We can’t expect good outcomes much less perfect outcomes in neck traumas. Hopefully the investigators will look at the whole picture. If they look at neck trauma studies, which are few and involve people stable enough to make it to the ER the mortality rate is still high. They made “mistakes” also I guess. Or maybe the mistake they made was not being God. Paramedics and doctors are just humans working within human confines. Those confines being a crush torn swollen tube that probably didn’t have a open diameter at all anymore and less than three minutes to canulate what tiny airway if any that was left. Yet we blame them when things don’t go perfect and say they made “mistakes”. The publics mistake is passing judgement on incidents to which they have no knowledge or expertise in.

  • Katie

    Salt Lake City doctor Tim Wolfe found that something as simple as a $6 suction device could determine whether the intubation tube is in the right place. Once squeezed, if the bulb does not refill with air, the intubation is not working. Dr. Wolfe designed and markets one of these devices today. Another, more common one measures carbon dioxide. If the lungs are producing carbon dioxide, the intubation is good.

    But amazingly, Dr. Wolfe says, the majority of emergency care across the country don’t use them.

    Why? Some doctors and paramedics say they cost too much. Others say they’re not necessary, that good medical judgment is enough.
    The problem with being wrong is it might kill somebody.

  • Vickey

    I have been a paramedic for 17 years. I have never seen an intubation done with out using a CO2 detector. Even with a CO2 detector in line, the color change can be minimal, even in correctly and incorrectly placed air ways, as well as ET digital CO2 monitoring. Even in ideal intubations to where you can visualize the vocal cords, the tube can perfortate the trachea.
    This intubation was done in the absolute worst of circumstances, and I’m sure the air way was impossible to visualize and that even in a perfect clinical setting, that this intubation would have not even been attempted by doctors who intubate everyday, instead ENT surgeons would have been paged, or the most experienced anesthesiologist in the facility would be doing the procedure. The guys in the field had none of these advanced resources. I have been their and done this, some air ways are lost no matter how hard you try. I’m praying for all involved and yes, emergency workers are dropping out of the field everyday due to the constant bashing of our services. Sadly not everyone makes it. I’m sure this poor lady’s airway would have been the worst case ever. At least they tried instead of just bagging her, as her airway would have swelled shut and the lungs of filled with blood anyway in just a few minutes with certain death. I support the very ones that put their lives and lively hoods on the line daily just to help others.

  • John

    You say that the ENT surgeons would have been paged Vickey, what makes you think that they even had time for a surgeon to arrive? I doubt these guys in the field had more than 1-3 minutes to do the whole tracheotomy from the onset of the victim’s decline/demise. There simply would not have been time, they literally would have had 60-120 seconds till the victim passed out and cardiac arrest to shortly follow and try placing an air way during chest compressions. This is a tragic even for all involved and hopefully the crew involved doesn’t drop out of the field, because so many are. Saving lives is just bad business now. I dropped out 3 years ago and drive a school bus now, but I would of course do CPR on a child no matter what.

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