By Patric Hedlund
A call for help was placed at 9:40 a.m. from Frazier Mountain High School on
May 29. Classes had been in session for only an hour when Lisa Walter (who works
with a local church and the Boys & Girls Club) was called at home. She says her
son was found unconscious. He had been given alcohol at school, she was told. As
Walter tells it, her son had passed out in class; Principal Dan Penner carried
the freshman from his classroom and called 911. On June 5, in response to an
email question, Penner denied part of that: “he was never unconscious at any
time,” he wrote of the student.
Kern County Fire Department EMTs arrived first. They administered oxygen.
Captain Sergio Rodriquez said, “we tried to bring him around,” asking him basic
questions. “He was throwing up…his eyes kept closing….” Rodriquez reports an
empty bottle of vodka was found in the student’s pack.
Alcohol in high doses, swallowed quickly, shuts down the central nervous
system. Breathing can slow to under eight breaths a minute or just stop, causing
a coma and brain damage; body temperature plummets, the skin becomes cold, pale
or bluish?a sign of insufficient oxygen. The heart can stop beating. “Sleeping
it off” is a myth; victims of alcohol poisoning may die of heart failure or by
aspirating vomit if left unattended; they can die of hypothermia in 50 degree
temperature. They need medical care, quickly.
Hall Ambulance began administering intravenous fluids while transporting
Walter’s son to Henry Mayo Hospital in Valencia. At noon, she says, he was still
unconscious. The diluted blood-alcohol level was 1.93-almost 2.5 times the level
of intoxication for an adult. The 9th grader required two full bags of
intravenous fluids to clear his system of the toxic overdose of alcohol. He did
not wake up until 3:00 p.m., Walter reports. “If help had not been called, he
could have died,” she said.
Statisticians, prompted by parents, are now unveiling a secret: for years,
coroners attributed alcohol poisoning deaths to “heart failure” or “respiratory
failure.” Parents were told their child had died of “a sudden tragic accident.”
Now parent groups report efforts to roll back the denial. One government site
says that 20,000 people a year die from alcohol-induced causes not including
auto accidents and liver damage. Many of those are youngsters who drink on a
dare from people who don’t know that alcohol poisoning kills.
“He doesn’t remember what happened,” Walter says, “but now he is seeing all
the consequences. He is a good kid, but he has lost everything, his CDs, his
phone, the right to attend the school next year. The sheriff’s deputy talked to
him and Matt feels really bad about it. He is going to have to work off a fine
and help pay for all the days off from work this has caused me. This is a silent
killer. It isn’t going to be silent in our family anymore.”
This is part of the June 08, 2007 online edition of The Mountain Enterprise.
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