Carletonville, Gauteng, South Africa: Gauteng Department of Health is investigating an incident in which a woman was found alive in a mortuary fridge in Carletonville, hours after paramedics declared that she was dead.
The woman was certified dead at the scene of a pile-up outside Carletonville, west of Johannesburg, in the early hours of Sunday.
The woman’s car rolled and all three occupants were flung from the vehicle. Two were killed.
Gauteng Forensic Pathology Services CEO Dr Paul Morule said on Tuesday that police called them to collect the dead bodies at the scene of the crash.
Morule added that a private emergency service declared the people dead.
“As per procedure, forensic officers collected the bodies for storage and further investigations to determine the cause of the death by [a] pathologist.”
Morule said a forensic officer later found her alive in a morgue fridge several hours after the crash.
He said the forensic officer “promptly summoned help” and was able to transport the woman to the nearest hospital.
On Monday, ambulance service Distress Alert confirmed that they had certified the woman dead.
Distress Alert operations manager Gerrit Bradnick told reporters that they followed their procedures.
“All the right checks were done – breathing, pulse – so the patient was declared deceased,” he said.
“The crew is absolutely devastated. We’re not in the business of declaring living people dead, we’re in the business of keeping people alive,” Bradnick added.
Bradnick said that the accident that led to mis-declaration occurred in a bad stretch of road where paramedics were in danger as they responded to the crash: “Cars were coming at high speed and we kept having to run away through the ditches. It was absolute chaos.”
There is no national government oversight of ambulance businesses in the region. However, ambulance workers must register with the nation’s Health Professionals Council.
“Anyone can open an ambulance service, it’s completely unregulated outside the Western Cape,” Jo Park-Ross, a paramedic in Cape Town, said.
The matter has been referred to the Health Professions Council of South Africa.
The department has been in contact with the woman’s family.
The woman remained hospitalized in critical condition and her family has been informed, a spokesman for the Gauteng provincial health department told reporters.