Breathing Machine Is Focus of Initial Testimony In Solvang ALS Murder Trial

December 6, 2015 - als

Breathing machines famous as ventilators were a concentration of opening testimony Friday in a hearing of dual women charged with conspiring to murder an ALS studious in Solvang some-more than dual years ago.

Twenty-four jurors and 8 alternates listened a initial declare speak about ventilator operations in a Santa Maria courtroom during a initial day of testimony in a hearing of Marjorie Good, 89, and Wanda Nelson, 63.

The women are charged with murdering Heidi Good, who died Mar 25, 2013, after a extensive conflict with amyotrophic parallel sclerosis, also famous as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease.

After surpassing life expectations for a standard studious with a neurodegenerative disease, Heidi Good had a tracheostomy, and relied on a ventilator to exhale and around-the-clock caretakers to hoop her simple needs. 

Heidi died of asphyxia, that medical experts have blamed on her ventilator no longer providing those life-giving breaths.

Santa Barbara county prosecutors purported that Good and Nelson conspired to murder Heidi by giving her complicated doses of opiate drugs that rendered her comatose before a ventilator was disconnected.

Respiratory therapist Gordon Sawyer, a former worker of ventilator manufacturer CareFusion, reviewed a information that had been available by a appurtenance that kept Heidi alive and eventually led to her death.


On Mar 25, 2013, a day Heidi upheld away, a ventilator’s “event trace,” or black box, detailed several incidents involving a machine, including that a low-pressure alarm went off during 2:03 p.m. and was close off 30 mins later. (While those are a times on a ventilator’s log, prosecutors pronounced a time was by 5 mins fast.). 

“Usually, not always, it means that there’s not adequate movement going to a patient,” Sawyer said. “If there’s a trickle in a circuit, some of a air’s going to a studious and some of it’s going out into a room.”

“When that happens, a vigour that it took to broach that gas gets lower, and that’s a purpose of a low-pressure alarm — to let me know that something’s wrong here, I’m not generating a airway vigour we should be, and we need to come demeanour during it and see what it is,” Sawyer said. 

Circuit is a attention tenure for a hoses and tubes concerned in a ventilator’s operations.

Sometimes a alarm might be set off inadvertently by patients who still have some ability to breathe on their own, Sawyer said. 

“Usually it’s a leak, that’s customarily what it is,” Sawyer said, adding that leaks can come from a tracheostomy tube.

The low-pressure alarm privileged 30 mins after it went off, Sawyer said.

Alarms have both heard and visible notifications, with a high-pitched beeping sound signaling a concern.

“It only keeps going,” Sawyer said, “as prolonged as a condition’s there. Once it’s clear, afterwards that would stop.”


Alarms can transparent themselves in some singular circumstances, though typically they need some arrange of intervention, he said.

“So tubes or leaks don’t clear  themselves?” asked Senior Deputy District Attorney Cynthia Gresser.

“Not usually, no,” Sawyer responded. 

The heard alarm can be silenced for 60 seconds, though would start grating again unless a reset symbol is pushed.

“So if we wanted to continue silencing, how would we be means to do it?” Gresser asked.

“You’d have to mount there and pull that symbol each 60 seconds,” Sawyer said. 

Any of a tubes could means a low-pressure alarm, given it’s rescued as a new opening in a ventilator’s circuit, according to Sawyer. 

“It only depends on where a alarm is set in propinquity to what a airway vigour was,” he said. 

The appurtenance annals a limit of 455 events, tossing progressing apparatus if a information is not downloaded before reaching that number, Sawyer said.

Earlier on Mar 25, 2013, a ventilator available other events, including a high-side undo and low-side undo .

Attorney Lori Pedego, who represents Nelson, asked about a probable reasons those events occurred.

“It has to be something with one of those lines,” Sawyer said. “It could be a disconnect. It could be secretions got in a line. It could be H2O got in a line.

“It’s something that’s not vouchsafing that sold line review pressures and flows a approach it’s ostensible to.”

Patients on ventilators mostly need a line to be suctioned to equivocate blockages, he said. 

Data available by a ventilator doesn’t give minute information about how a problem was resolved, Sawyer said. 

“All it’s doing is documenting alarm conditions occurred and went away,” Sawyer added. “That’s all it’s doing. What caused them or what someone did, we have no idea.”

When he worked with patients in hospitals, alarms periodically went off, Sawyer said.

“Ventilators are able of malfunction, correct?,” asked profession David Bixby, who represents Good.

“Yeah, any square of apparatus would be able of that,” Sawyer said.

He worked for CareFusion’s customer advocacy department, that rubbed 5,000 complaints annually, he said.

Sawyer also testified that a alarm apparently had not sounded for a 16 mins from a time a appurtenance pronounced a problem was privileged until a ventilator was close off during 2:49 p.m., a pivotal indicate given a emissary who arrived during a stage reportedly has claimed a ventilator alarm was sounding.

While CareFusion employees testified in a rapist case, a organisation hired an attorney, who sat in a courtroom, to paint a workers.

“If Care Fusion has no …  worry about liability, because is that profession in a audience?” Bixby asked.

Sawyer pronounced it’s association process to yield authorised warn for their employees anytime they are concerned with attorneys.

Testimony in a box continues Tuesday morning in Judge Rogelio Flores’ courtroom.

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached during .(JavaScript contingency be enabled to perspective this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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