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Woman Prematurely Declared Dead by Paramedics

Thursday - 3/31/2005, 7:42am  ET

ALEXANDRIA, Va. - When social worker Charlene Kyer arrived at Cegurna Thomas's house to check on her one morning, she wasn't able to rouse the woman from bed. Unable to find a pulse, Kyer called the paramedics.

They, too, couldn't find a pulse and drove away a few minutes later, leaving Thomas with three police officers to process the scene where she died.

The only problem was, Thomas wasn't dead.

"Everyone thought I was dead," the 56-year-old said with a laugh. "It's happened before where I quit breathing, and people think I've gone."

After a police officer noticed one of Thomas's eyelids move and another officer heard the sounds of strained breathing, the paramedics were called back to the house. Thomas was taken to the hospital, where she spent four days hooked to intravenous fluids.

An internal fire department investigation into the Feb. 4 incident was conducted, and "the appropriate actions are being taken in response to the findings," department spokeswoman Jane Malik said. She declined to identify the paramedics or provide additional details, citing employee confidentiality and personnel laws.

The paramedics involved in the incident were disciplined, said John Vollmer, president of the fire union Local 2141. One was terminated and the other one was suspended for 24 hours.

The dismissed medic, a 16-year member of the department, had an administrative hearing Friday and is fighting to get her job back, Vollmer said.

"It was unfortunate what happened. Something like that has never happened before," Vollmer said. "I don't know that it warranted that kind of discipline, and only for one of them."

The union has hired an attorney for the fired paramedic. The city has seven days to review her arguments, Vollmer said.

The wheelchair-bound Thomas, who suffers from a long list of ailments including diabetes, hernias, congestive heart failure and asthma, said she holds no hard feelings about her ordeal and doesn't want the paramedic to lose her job. Instead, she said the story keeps her "encouraged about life."

"They call me the Holy Woman around here," Thomas said. "I have a lot of faith that God wasn't ready for me yet. My work here wasn't done. When He's ready for me, believe me, He'll let me know."

(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)