911 response time studied after boy dies

By: Jessica Strachan | Southfield Sun | Published October 3, 2012

 Xavier, 10, with his mother, Danielle Joe, of Southfield. Joe said her son loved to dance and sing, and his favorite artist was Michael Jackson. He made honor roll every year since pre-school, she said.

Xavier, 10, with his mother, Danielle Joe, of Southfield. Joe said her son loved to dance and sing, and his favorite artist was Michael Jackson. He made honor roll every year since pre-school, she said.

Photo courtesy of Joe family

SOUTHFIELD — Every minute counts.

That’s the message of one local mother who said her 10-year-old son died because he had to wait too long for Southfield EMS to arrive while he was suffering from an asthma attack Sept. 23.

“I called 911 and explained that my son needed an EMS. They put me on hold for a very long time,” Danielle Joe said, explaining that she timed at least 45 minutes from the time she first dialed 911 until the first fire truck arrived at their Oxley Street apartment. “They took too long.”

Joe said she was transferred several times between Oak Park’s dispatch and Southfield’s.

“They told me they could not find an EMS for my son,” she added. She said she later read in the statement issued from the Southfield Fire Department that a family was trapped in a house fire during the time she was calling in.

Fire Chief Keith Rowley said the matter is being looked into, though the time of arrival at the scene was “closer to 15 minutes,” according to their records.

“We just hope for the best for the family. We understand their grief, and the situation is under review,” he said.

As to why the call went to Oak Park, Rowley said, “There is no policy. It’s a technical thing. When you call 911 from a cellphone, it depends on what tower it bounces off of. … I know, personally, if I’ve been on the expressway and called 911, it goes to the Michigan State Police, and they ask what community I’m in. I can’t say for sure that’s what happened here, it was Ms. Joe’s report that it went to Oak Park.”

It had started as a usual Sunday for Xavier, a fifth-grade honor student at Pepper Elementary School in Oak Park. He had just been dropped off back home at around 8 p.m. from a visit with his father when Joe noticed that he was not breathing well.

“I greeted him at the door, of course, like always, and noticed he was wheezing,” she said. “Usually he would have more of a wheeze versus having an (asthma) attack. It’s just that this time he was going into a full-blown attack.”

Joe administered her son’s medication and put him on a breathing machine. The medicine in the machine wasn’t working, though, and breathing was becoming more and more difficult for Xavier. She gave him his inhaler and prescription Prednisone, too.

“None of those things seemed to have worked, and that’s when I called 911,” Joe explained.

She said she was dispatched to Oak Park, who put her on hold, then eventually transferred her to the Southfield Police Department, who also put her on hold before delivering the news that they had no EMS available for Xavier, she said.

In those minutes, which Joe said seemed to drag on, she could only comfort her son.

“He was in distress. He kept saying, ‘The EMS is taking too long.’ He was gasping for air,” she said. “I just told him to calm down.”

Two neighbors who lived in the same apartment complex — one a registered nurse and the other studying to become one — rushed over to help while Joe was on hold, she said. They decided he needed to get to the hospital immediately, but just as one of the neighbors scooped Xavier up in her arms and ran outside, he lost consciousness, Joe said.

They took Xavier into the neighbor’s apartment, where they began performing CPR. EMS and the Fire Department arrived shortly thereafter, she said, and transported Xavier to the hospital.

“They did CPR for another hour (at the hospital) and they wanted to pronounce him dead, but I wouldn’t let them,” Joe said, explaining that his heart had stopped. “I went and talked to Xavier, I asked him to fight, to come back to me and not to leave.”

Joe said he did come back for a minute and during that time, before he flatlined again, she had hope.

“I was talking to my son, asking him to come back to Mommy. But then it went flat again and he was dead. My son was dead.”

Joe said she believes that Xavier was letting her know he could hear her voice.

All of the minutes — from the nearly 15 minutes she said she was on hold after calling 911 to the first 45 minutes when she tried to comfort her son as he fought to take in enough air — were crucial to her son’s chance to stay alive, she said.

She said her hope is that another mother will not have to face what she has.

“I’m really hoping that the EMS time will improve so this will never have to happen again to another family,” she said. “I’d just like for this to never happen again, not just in the city of Southfield, but everywhere.”

Joe also added that two weeks prior she had called 911 when her house was broken into. During that call, she said she was also transferred to Oak Park police instead of Southfield.

“Every minute counts when you call 911.”

Visitation will be 3-8 p.m. Oct. 5 at Pye Funeral Home, 17600 Plymouth Road, Detroit. The funeral will be at 11 a.m. Oct. 6 at Fellowship Chapel, 7707 W. Outer Drive in Detroit, with family hour at 10 a.m.

The burial will take place at Detroit Memorial West Park, 25200 Plymouth Road, Redford Township. The family is trying to raise money to cover the funeral and burial expenses for Xavier. To contribute, visit http://xavierjoe.chipin.com/xavier-joe.