Doctor, witnesses dispute response time after boy collapses, dies

by: Carl Willis Updated:

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BUFORD, Ga. - The first responder who worked to save a seventh-grader who collapsed during a basketball game talked to Channel 2 Action News Monday.

Dr. Steven McIntosh was in the stands at the Suwanee Sports Academy Saturday night when Jeremy Nelson fainted.

"My son played in a game prior and I looked at this child as my child," McIntosh said.

He ran to help Nelson and identified himself as a physician.

For a moment, McIntosh said the 12-year-old was conscious and even speaking.

"When he did awaken, he did say, 'My chest hurts. My chest hurts and I'm hot'," said McIntosh. "So, I definitely suspect it was a cardiac event."

Monday, the Chief Forensic Investigator at Gwinnett County Medical Examiner's Office told Channel 2's Carl Wills that Nelson died from a pulmonary edema. That's an abnormal buildup of fluid in the lungs.

Tests were being conducted to determine the cause. McIntosh said heart failure is among the possibilities.

"He was a little cold and clammy," he said. "I suspected his blood pressure was low, but we had no blood pressure cuff. We waited and waited at first for the police to arrive, and then he asked, 'Should I call EMS?' (I said) 'Yes, EMS needs to be called. A child is down."

Nelson's coach and father told Willis on Sunday said it seemed like an eternity before the medic unit arrived to assist.

"We expected more of a sense of urgency, and to come in with a quick step and quickly get him stabilized," said Nelson's coach, Bryan Larrieu of the Atlanta Celtics.

"I can't tell you how much time elapsed. It seemed long to me, yes," added Jeremy's father, Herb Nelson. "When it's your kid lying there, it's never quick enough."

The Gwinnett County Department of Fire and Emergency Services sent Willis a breakdown of the timeline:

-8:59 p.m. Initial response to the call and dispatch of an engine and medic unit

-9:05 p.m. The engine with two EMTs and a paramedic arrived at Suwanee Sports Academy and began assessment and treatment

-9:10 p.m. The medic unit that was returning from a local hospital arrived

-9:17 p.m. Nelson was transported to Gwinnett Medical Center as advanced life support continued

Nelson's father said the game started at 8 p.m. and his son was pronounced dead at the hospital at 10:20 p.m.

McIntosh, Nelson's father, his coach and a number of witnesses in the gym disagreed with the timeline.

Many of them described a wait of 30-45 minutes from the time of the boy's collapse to the time he was transported.

"As with any situation, emergency personnel at the scene performed their duties with dedication and determination," said Capt. Tommy Rutledge of the Gwinnett County Department of Fire and Emergency Services. "Our thoughts and prayers are with the family and friends during this difficult time."

"It just seemed like too much time had elapsed," McIntosh said. "I was there, a medical provider. I had nothing more than a defibrillator to offer care to help this child. If I had more resources maybe I could have done something, and those resources would have been EMS."

Nelson's father and his coach called for additional steps to protect the children.

"The community is going to demand it," Larrieu said.

"I would definitely like to see some sort of health care personnel to be readily available to assist with injuries," said McIntosh. "Could this tragedy have been averted? I don't know."