Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 23 September 2014

Ambulance calls reveal last hours of tragic Natasha

Natasha Richardson
Natasha Richardson and Liam Neeson
Natasha and Liam

The tragic hours when ambulance paramedics battled to help Natasha Richardson following her fatal fall have been revealed.

Transcripts have been published of the emergency radio calls from the ambulance which picked her up from a Canadian ski resort following what had appeared to be a minor accident.

The conversations from the emergency scanner, published in the Toronto-based Globe and Mail at the weekend, shed light on how the actress wife of Ballymena-born actor Liam Neeson deteriorated in the hours following the accident.

The 45-year-old had signed up for a ski lesson at the Mont Tremblant resort. She struck her head after tumbling on a nursery slope but initially seemed well. An ambulance was called but turned back when the mum-of-two declined medical help.

In a despatch from the resort a short time after the accident the radio operator can be heard saying: “Priority 3, Tremblant resort (inaudible) female, 42 years old, 17 Bravo 1 12:43, assigned 12:44.”

Code 17 means a fall. Bravo 1, or B-1, means possibly dangerous. Priority 3 is the second most urgent emergency call from the public, which requires medics to get to the scene immediately.

The ambulance arrived 17 minutes after the report of the fall, but Ms Richardson had decided that she felt fine. Ms Richardson returned to her suite at the Hotel Quintessence where she later began to feel unwell and an ambulance was called again.

Within 45 minutes, the medics loaded the renowned film and theatre actress into the ambulance and headed to the Centre Hospitalier Laurentien in Sainte-Agathe, a local hospital.

The gravity of the situation soon becomes clear as the operator says: “Priority 1, Mont Tremblant. We're talking about the side, facing the south side of The Shack. It will be at the Hotel Quintessence, Suite No 11. For a female, 41 years old. 17 Delta 1.”

17-Delta-1, or 17-D-1, refers to a fall, which has now been upgraded to “dangerous”.

Later, in the ambulance, the paramedic radio’s to say: “I'm arriving with a female in her 40s, presently at verbal (responds to verbal stimulus but otherwise fades out), disoriented 0 out of 4. It's following a story, a ski fall that happened at noon. Soon afterward she presents signs of confusion, a concussion. Glasgow at 12 vital signs: 124 on 86, breathing 100 per cent with O2, cardiac sequence at 70. We'll be there in about eight minutes.”

The Glasgow coma scale measures degrees of consciousness after a traumatic brain injury. A rating of 12 is consistent with a moderate brain injury.

Vital signs of 124 over 86 refers to her blood pressure. The cardiac sequence is her pulse. She is being given oxygen, so her oxygen level is 100 per cent.

By around 6pm, Ms Richardson was being transferred to the Sacre Coeur hospital in Montreal.

The operator is heard saying: “Priority 2, Sainte Agathe Crash room 2, destination Sacré Coeur. With oxygen, 10-48 and monitor.”

A priority 2 call is the most urgent call from a hospital (as opposed to from the general public, which is Priority 1). 10-48 means an escort. The monitor refers to a heart monitor.

Ms Richardson was airlifted the next day to Lenox Hill Hospital in New York, where she was placed on life support. She died with Neeson by her side after her family made the agonising decision to switch off the life-support. An autopsy report found she had suffered a blunt blow to the head.

“If you're brain dead already, the rest of your body isn't far behind,” said Marc S Arginteanu, a neurosurgeon at Lenox Hill not involved in Ms Richardson's care, told the Globe and Mail.

“Despite everything you could possibly want to do, once somebody is brain dead, it's really just a matter of time before the body goes.”

Ms Richardson was buried last weekend in a private ceremony.

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