Inmate’s death in 2016 haunts paramedic

Comments by nurse that prisoner was ‘already dead’ were disturbing, inquest told

An advanced-care paramedic who tried to resuscitate an inmate in the throes of an overdose at the Vancouver Island Regional Correctional Centre told a coroner’s inquest that the man’s death still haunts him.

A seven-member jury and coroner are hearing details about the death of Bradley Gregory Martins Graham, who died on the morning of March 6, 2016, after he was found unresponsive in his cell.

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Graham Harrington said he was upset by comments made by a nurse at the jail that the 33-year-old inmate was “already dead” and that Harrington’s interventions were not necessary.

“I don’t think that’s a good response,” said the paramedic, who has 25 years of experience. “It makes me angry, to be honest. It has haunted me in my sleep.”

Harrington said nurses and paramedics owe all patients the highest standard of care and should do whatever is needed to save them.

Graham’s family listened to testimony from the public gallery. The inquest is not meant to assign blame. Jurors are tasked with making recommendations in the hopes of preventing similar deaths in the future.

Harrington expressed concerns that his ambulance faced delays getting through the gates of the Wilkinson Road jail that morning.

Guards at the gate told Harrington that his ambulance wasn’t needed because another one had already arrived. He explained that he is an advanced-care paramedic with special training in life-saving interventions.

The delay at the gates “felt quite long.” Upon questioning from coroner Larry Marzinzik, Harrington estimated it was two to three minutes.

Harrington said a matter of minutes can make a difference in treating someone in cardiac arrest, but said he doesn’t think it made a difference in Graham’s case.

The paramedic said when he arrived at the cell, he asked the jail guard if there was a chance Graham had taken drugs.

The guard almost laughed, Harrington said, and said something like: “We’re in a jail, of course there’s access to drugs.”

Graham’s cellmate, Chris Wilson, testified on Tuesday that the two inmates had taken methamphetamine and heroin before Graham died. Wilson denied the drugs were his and would not answer questions on how illegal drugs are smuggled into jails.

When Harrington arrived, the jail nurse had already given Graham a large dose of naloxone, which reverses the effects of an opioid overdose.

One juror asked Harrington whether he thinks “prison staff wrote this guy off because he’s in prison?”

Harrington said no, but maintained that he was disturbed by the nurse’s comments.

The jail’s correctional supervisor, Mike Fowler, testified Tuesday that correctional officers performed CPR on Graham until paramedics arrived.

Harrington said paramedics continued resuscitation efforts in the ambulance on the way to Victoria General Hospital.

Dr. Bruce Campana said he and other emergency room staff tried to revive Graham for about an hour. That time was in addition to the time he was worked on “in the field” by paramedics.

“This man had one of the most aggressive and prolonged resuscitations I’ve seen in 30 years,” Campana said.

He said Graham had no hope of neurological or cardiac recovery.

Forensic toxicologist Aaron Shapiro said Graham had heroin, fentanyl and methamphetamine in his blood. Forensic pathologist Cheryl Wright said Graham died of mixed drug poisoning due to high levels of fentanyl.

kderosa@timescolonist.com

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