Skip to comments.Woman tries to save dying man, but gets stuck with bills
Posted on 07/09/2007 8:58:19 AM PDT by WestTexasWend
-After county won't test victim's blood for viruses, good samaritan left wondering if she was infected-
When Wendy Lee saw a man get hit by a truck that night in May, she had no second thoughts about what she should do.
Lee stopped her Suburban to help 64-year-old Juan Vega, who had been trying to cross Williamson County Road 172 near La Frontera in Round Rock when he was struck by a 2000 Chevrolet pickup. Lee said she could see Vega's cowboy boots lying in the road.
"I called 911 as I was walking up to him, and they walked me through the first steps of CPR and chest compressions," Lee said.
Vega's eyes were open and moving, and he was gasping for air as she put her lips to his and breathed.
The next moment, she was spitting his blood into the grass.
Vega died on the way to Brackenridge Hospital in Austin. When emergency workers saw that Lee, 38, was covered in Vega's blood, they sent her to the hospital to be tested for HIV and hepatitis.
The tests came back negative, but because Williamson County didn't test Vega for those diseases at the scene, Lee is left wondering whether she was exposed to viruses that might affect her health later. Doctors say that six to eight weeks after exposure is the most important time to test for HIV and hepatitis because both viruses take time to show up, but Lee said she cannot afford to get retested.
And more than a month later, she's stuck with almost $3,000 in medical bills.
"When I opened that bill, I wanted to cry," said Lee, a single mother of two teenagers who is a human resource manager at Triple Crown Dog Academy in Hutto. "I kept thinking to myself, 'Didn't I do the right thing?' "
Eric Strelnieks, a staff physician at St. David's Round Rock Medical Center, where Lee was taken after she tried to help Vega, said she was given a shot to prevent hepatitis B, a virus that attacks the liver, and was prescribed medication that slows the development of HIV.
Lee said she stopped taking the medication after a few weeks because it made her nauseated and dizzy.
Lee's health insurance paid a portion of her hospital bill, which was just under $8,000. But she said she can't afford to pay the remainder.
"The way life is right now, $50 is too much to pay," she said.
Testing Vega's blood for diseases could have put the questions to rest, but Williamson County doesn't require such tests unless it is suspected that alcohol or drugs were involved in a fatal accident, said Steve Benton, the justice of the peace who was called to the May 15 wreck.
The driver, an 18-year-old Round Rock man, was not charged.
"I sympathize with (Lee), but if we did a toxicology and blood test every time a fatality occurred, then it would cost the county $2,000 for each test," Benton said. Lee said she asked for Vega's medical records but was told by a state trooper after the accident that they were not available to her because of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA, a law that prevents patient medical records from being made public.
That might not be the case, said health law attorney Leah Stuart with the law firm Vinson & Elkins. She said Lee would have to make an open records request to any hospital or physician that Vega may have visited, and the health provider would then decide whether to release the information.
"It's a catch-all exception in the (HIPAA) law that pertains to someone whose life has been threatened. Hers could be in this case," Stuart said. "For (Lee) to get those records is a big hurdle."
Lee said that between work and caring for her children, she doesn't have time to deal with paperwork or open records requests.
Socorro Vega, Juan Vega's daughter, met with Lee last month and told her that her father was not sick. But she did not know the last time he had been tested for communicable diseases.
"She was an angel for my dad that moment she stopped. She really just wanted to save his life," Socorro Vega said. "I just hope that she gets help to pay the bills or gets the help she deserves for her good deed."
According to hospital officials in Round Rock and Austin, emergency technicians and first responders who are exposed to patients' blood receive the same testing and medication that Lee received, but their employers' insurance covers the cost.
Lee said she helped Vega because she and others had failed to help the victim of a car accident in front of her Round Rock home this year. She said she later learned that the man lying in the middle of the road had died, and she vowed to help the next person in need.
"I could never regret what I did (for Vega) because I know it was right," she said. "I just wish someone could tell me what to do."
I had to read that title a couple times.
If a person's eyes are open and moving and he is gasping for air then their is no reason to try to administer CPR. You might try to see if you can clear the airway if he is gasping, but if he is gasping for air then there is clearly no reason to attempt nor benefit of assisted breathing or chest compressions.
Wow...those are some expensive tests!!! Too bad she can’t drive up to Canada and have it done....could she?
Just shows how ridiculous medical costs ( tests to be exact ) are becoming. $2000 for a series of blood tests that have been standardized and somewhat automated past the sample retrieval.
Good thing you’re a Dr. Most people don’t and won’t know that — when faced in the same situation...and stating so as you just did...won’t stop someone from trying to save them. Seems like a natural instictive thing to do.
Does anyone have Wendy Lee’s mailing address or know how to contact her?
Sad. This reminds me of the old saying that no good deed goes unpunished.
There must be some anonymous rich guy in Austin who could pay her bills out of his pocket change out of the goodness of his heart, which would seem to be the best solution.
No, you don’t give CPR to somebody who is breathing, but how was this poor woman to know that? She was doing her best to help.
- Don't always expect to get rewardrd for doing the right thing. More often, the result is the opposite.
- It seems the daughter could help her out a bit here - It seems that the taxpayers should help out here too.
We all know that somebody else has to pay. After all, we are a bunch of stupid children, and somebody else always has to pay. One should not entertain for a moment that one should be responsible for one's own bills.
So, the question becomes, which somebody else has to pay? The local rescue squad? The Mayor's office? The Feds?
Maybe we should just replace all levels of government with a big ATM that will pay everybody for everything.
No good deed goes unpunished
It’s basic CPR training -— coughing or making noise — no CPR (other than clearing airway).
Presumably, if a person knows how to do chest compressions, they also remember that.
They don’t say whether the deceased was an illegal immigrant, so he must have been.
We’ve had our share of medical expenses lately and what ticks me is that if we were illegals, we wouldn’t be paying any of it. She should have those expenses waived for trying to save the guys life.
I bet the call was taped. Depending on what she said to 911 and what they said back to her, it may be that she was advised to perform CPR on a breathing man. If that were so, then the risk of infection brought on by that dangerous and unecessary act may be something that she could sue for.
I don't care much for lawsuits, but it seems like she got bad advice and now has to pay for it. That ain't right.
Well, current CPR technique calls for chest compressions only, but it seems pretty clear the guy didn’t need CPR at all.
“Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) instructions given over the phone by emergency dispatchers to lay rescuers should focus primarily on continuous chest compressions instead of the traditional ABC’s - “airway, breathing, circulation,” according to Dr. Paul Pepe, chairman of emergency medicine at UT Southwestern Medical Center.
“Dr. Pepe, along with international colleagues from the Council of Standards for the National Academies of Emergency Dispatch (NAED), made the recommendation in the May issue of the journal Resuscitation.
“The council had been asked to update and modify protocols for emergency dispatchers who may need to give rapid telephone instructions on how to perform CPR. The council’s recommendations were based largely on experimental data and a supportive clinical trial that found improved survival with a “compressions-only” approach. The council’s recommendations were also based on the notion that simplifying the guidelines would increase the chances that CPR will be performed since some people may be reluctant to perform mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.”
And those tests only cost about $125 here in Hawaii. I’ve not had insurance that would pay for that stuff, and annually checked my cholesterol, along with a check for Hep and HIV. $8000??? Something aint right here.
Disclaimer: Opinions posted on Free Republic are those of the individual posters and do not necessarily represent the opinion of Free Republic or its management. All materials posted herein are protected by copyright law and the exemption for fair use of copyrighted works.