View Full Version : Doctors: Taser Stopped Teen's Heart

09-04-2005, 11:11 AM
Doctors: Taser stopped teen's heart


BY DAVE NEWBART Staff Reporter
September 4, 2005

A 14-year-old shocked by a Chicago Police stun gun has become the first Taser-linked cardiac arrest to be documented in a medical journal, two doctors from Children's Memorial Hospital say.

The doctors, in a letter published in the New England Journal of Medicine last week, say the electricity delivered from the Taser stun gun led the boy to suffer "ventricular fibrillation,'' in which the heart stops beating.

In the boy's case, paramedics already on the scene immediately used a defibrillator to restart his heart. The doctors argue that police who deploy Tasers should carry such medical equipment just in case.

The conclusion was made by Paul Kim and Wayne Franklin, two heart specialists at Children's Memorial, where the boy was treated after the incident in February.

It follows a similar conclusion in July by the Cook County medical examiner's office in a case that happened the same week. The medical examiner ruled the death of Ronald Hasse was a homicide, occurring after Chicago Police used a Taser for nearly a minute to subdue him.

That ruling was the first in the nation that listed a shock from a Taser as the primary cause of death, even though more than 129 people had died following such shocks, Amnesty International said at the time.

Taser International, the Arizona company that makes the weapons, disputes the medical examiner's claim and challenges the Children's Memorial doctors' conclusion.

'I don't know of anything else'
The journal letter does not offer ''any scientific evidence of a causal relationship between use of a Taser device and ventricular fibrillation,'' wrote Richard Luceri, an electrophysiologist at Holy Cross Hospital in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., in a letter solicited by Taser. "The conclusion implied by the authors is purely speculative and not backed by scientific evidence.''

In an interview, Franklin, an electrophysiologist and associate professor of pediatrics at Northwestern University who studies heart arrhythmias, said he believes the Taser was clearly what caused the teen's heart to stop because the boy went into cardiac arrest within seconds of being zapped. Tasers shoot up to 50,000 volts of electricity through two electrodes that can travel 21 feet through the air.

"I don't know of anything else that could have put him into ventricular fibrillation,'' Franklin said.

Others familiar with the case said there is no evidence the boy was on illegal or prescription drugs that could have caused his heart to stop.

Franklin didn't think being struck with the barbs from the Taser would have been enough to cause his heart to stop, and there are no other reports of the boy receiving blunt trauma to the chest, which could also cause fibrillation.

The boy was fortunate that paramedics were on the scene -- they had been called to treat a hand injury he suffered. If they hadn't been able to shock him with a defibrillator in less than two minutes of his collapse, "there is a very high likelihood he'd be dead,'' Franklin said. Paramedics also administered drugs.

The doctors do not argue against the use of Tasers in their letter. Franklin said he supports their use as a sublethal force that is preferable to using a gun.

But they do argue that police who deploy Tasers should also carry external defibrillators. If someone's heart stops as a result of a stun gun, there often isn't enough time to call paramedics. "The risk of surviving goes down 10 percent for each minute elapsed,'' Franklin said.