Medics' decision to stop resuscitation of Minn. woman under investigation

Six personnel from Maplewood FD are on leave after granting request of woman's husband and power of attorney to halt resuscitation


By Sarah Horner
Pioneer Press

MAPLEWOOD, Minn. — The decision by Maplewood paramedics to stop resuscitation efforts on a dying woman Aug. 7 at the request of her husband was at the center of a recent Maplewood police investigation.

While officials would not link the case with the city's Monday decision to place six employees of the Maplewood Fire Department on administrative leave, the incident was referenced by Maplewood City Manager Melinda Coleman in an email response to an inquiry about the employment situation.

The Maplewood fire chief and five staff members were placed on leave Monday after a complaint was filed with the city. The city has hired an outside investigator to look into the claim. Saying state law on personnel data prevented her from talking about the case, Coleman did forward the Pioneer Press a copy of a report of a closed police case from the Aug. 7 incident involving fire department employees.

The report details what Linda Sandhei's son, Peder Sandhei, said was an extremely emotional and challenging day for him and his family.

The 38-year-old had been sitting beside his 71-year-old mother at the Good Samaritan Society nursing home in Maplewood that afternoon when she suddenly vomited in her sleep.

Panicked, he pressed the emergency call button and ran to get a nurse.

Staff found her unconscious and not breathing but with a faint pulse and began CPR until Maplewood paramedics arrived and resumed resuscitation efforts, according to the Maplewood police report.

After detecting her pulse again at 4:10 p.m., the paramedics were preparing to take her to a waiting ambulance when Peder Sandhei's father, Thomas Sandhei, asked them to halt efforts and allow his wife, who had suffered from Parkinson's disease for 21 years, to die, the police report said.

The medics honored his request, disconnected Linda Sandhei from all life support monitors and wheeled her to a private room. She died 20 minutes later, the police report said.

While that request was an exceptionally challenging one for his father to make for his wife of 50 years, it was the right one, Peder Sandhei said Tuesday.

His mother's health had begun deteriorating rapidly about a month and a half ago, when she was hospitalized and lost the use of her legs, Peder Sandhei said.

A few weeks later, she started hallucinating and lost her sense of time and place. Another hospitalization Aug. 4 landed her in the Maplewood nursing home, Peder Sandhei said.

Watching machines keep her alive Aug. 7 was the final straw for him and his family, Peder Sandhei said. He added that his father was also his mother's power-of-attorney.

"(My mother) was very clear that she didn't want to live in a vegetative state... She didn't want to have a low quality of life," Peder Sandhei said. "It was clear her quality of life wasn't going to be improving. That's not how Parkinson's works."

With that in mind, he and his family were grateful when the paramedics at the scene complied with their request to let her die, Peder Sandhei said.

"I would hate to see them reprimanded for doing what the power of attorney and family were wishing... We just didn't see it being a good outcome to go to the hospital and drag it out over more days," Peder Sandhei said.

While empathizing with the family, Maplewood Police Chief Paul Schnell said his department was legally bound to investigate the incident because the woman had no health-care directive available at the scene and paramedics were not following the advice of a doctor.

After consulting with the Ramsey County attorney's office, it was determined that the responders operated "in good faith" at the request of the family and that no criminal laws were violated, Schnell said.

He added that he could not comment on whether the incident was related to the recent happenings in the Maplewood Fire Department because he is not privy to protected personnel data.

Two of the six employees on leave declined to comment Tuesday. The other four could not be reached. Officials with the nursing home also could not be reached for comment Tuesday evening.

The employees placed on leave include Fire Chief Steve Lukin, Assistant Fire Chief Clarence "Butch" Gervais, firefighter and paramedic Richard Dawson, firefighter and paramedic Mike Streff, part-time firefighter and emergency medical technician Joseph Kerska, and part-time firefighter and emergency medical technician Reid Troxel.

Maplewood Mayor Nora Slawik said earlier this week that she has faith in the city's process to vet the validity of the complaint.

When reached on his cellphone, Peder Sandhei's father, Thomas Sandhei, said he couldn't talk because he was driving. He couldn't be reached again later in the evening.

Peder Sandhei, who works for the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, said his family is still grieving the loss of his mother, who worked for years as an elementary teacher until her Parkinson's disease forced her into early retirement.

"It's always a hard decision to say goodbye to your mother or your wife," he said.

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©2015 the Pioneer Press (St. Paul, Minn.)

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