Quadriplegic’s fatal fall caught on camera

Posted on: 9:00 pm, July 15, 2012, by and , updated on: 09:26pm, July 15, 2012

DJ Chartier

DJ Chartier

OAK CREEK — He survived a lightning strike, but an Oak Creek man could not survive a mistake by a home health nurse.  It’s a mistake the patient’s mother caught on camera.  Now, she’s calling on the state to revoke the nurse’s license.

DJ Chartier was 16-years-old when a bolt of lightning nearly killed him.  He was on a trip to Florida with his grandmother.

“It went in his neck and you could see the entry into his neck and exit out of the left ankle,” DJ’s mother, Jane Frederick said.

The lightning strike left DJ a quadriplegic. That meant DJ’s family needed help.

“You could never leave DJ alone. You had to be one-on-one,” Frederick said.

For 16 years, Frederick relied on private duty home health nurses to help care for her son around the clock.  She even installed a sophisticated swing and pulley system extending throughout the house.

“He just loved it,” Frederick recalls.  “We called that ‘George of the Jungle.’”

It was one specific piece of equipment that would capture the event that ultimately caused her son’s death — a surveillance camera.

Frederick said she had some amazing nurses care for her son over the years, but there were also times when she caught staff drinking on the job, or even stealing.

“When I hired people I told them there was a camera there. If they didn’t want the camera there, they didn’t want to work with a camera, then they didn’t need to work here. It was there to protect my son and protect me,” Frederick said.

Frederick never expected the camera to capture a fatal mistake.

In January, a private duty nurse who’d been working with DJ for about two months was doing physical therapy with him.  DJ was sitting on the edge of a massage table, upright.  The nurse got up to retrieve a TV remote control.  His back was turned to DJ, and that’s when it happened. DJ’s body leaned to the left, slowly at first.  Then faster.  Unable to brace himself with any of his limbs, DJ fell helplessly to the ground.

His mom was upstairs and didn’t hear a thing.

“My husband heard the fall. He came to the doorway. The nurse said, ‘He’s fine, he’s fine, he fell, he’s fine.’ He fell so hard, he moved the recliner,” Frederick said.

Frederick says that every nurse she’s ever hired knew if something bad happened, they were supposed to tell her right away.

“Accidents happen.  He’s a quadriplegic. You get bumps, bruises, scratches — things happen,” Frederick said.

However, instead of notifying DJ’s mother of the fall, the video shows the nurse lifting DJ up, sitting him on the table, and within two minutes, resuming physical therapy.

“He picked DJ up and put him on that table and pretended nothing ever happened,” Frederick says.

It wasn’t until nearly an hour after the fall that DJ’s mom stopped in to check on him.  She noticed DJ was having spasms and appeared to be severely uncomfortable.

“I said to the nurse, ‘What`s going on?’ He said, ‘He’s wet,’” Frederick said.

Frederick helped the nurse change her son into dry clothes, cover him with a blanket and give him medication to help him rest.

“He never once told me my son fell to the floor. Never once,” Frederick said.

Frederick wasn’t the only one the nurse left in the dark. DJ’s daily chart shows no indication of a fall. Instead, the nurse says it was a “Quiet day,” and that DJ was “Somewhat sleepy. Maybe the movie’s not interesting enough.”

Ten hours later, the overnight nurse wrote that DJ’s legs were “tight and spasmy.” She had no idea why.

“Next morning I got up and I was telling my husband how bad this episode was and he responded to me, ‘Didn’t he tell you he fell?’ I was just in awe. I’m still in awe,” Frederick says.

That’s when Frederick checked the surveillance video, saw the fall, called the doctor and finally got her son to a hospital.

Turns out, DJ had a broken hip.

“My son suffered in horrific pain for 21 hours before he got any type of relief and it didn’t have to be that way,” Frederick said.

However, the worst was yet to come. DJ needed surgery. When doctors tried to bring him out of the anesthesia, his lungs collapsed. Six days after the fall, DJ Chartier died.

According to his death certificate, the cause was “complications of hip fracture” caused when DJ “fell from a massage table.”

“Due to [the nurse's] gross negligence, a person died,” Frederick says.

The FOX6 Investigators are not naming the nurse, because the state has yet to file any action against him, and he has no other complaints on file.

The nurse spoke briefly with FOX6 Investigator Bryan Polcyn by telephone.

“It’s a very, very sad situation,” he says.

The nurse says he forgot to report the fall in DJ’s chart because there was a power failure that led to “chaos,” a claim that seems to contradict his notation in the chart that it had been a “quiet day.”

Nurse Log for DJ

“That is unacceptable,” Frederick says.

There’s one more thing in the video that Frederick didn’t notice until after DJ died that has her calling for the nurse’s license to be revoked.

After the fall, the nurse appears to check DJ’s head and possibly his upper body, but does not appear to do a full body assessment, which may have revealed the injury sooner.

“He swore to me, ‘Jane, I swear to God, I assessed him. I didn`t know. I assessed him. I`m so sorry.’ He was at that hospital every day from January 4th until my son passed on January 10th swearing up and down he assessed him,” Frederick said.

Six months after DJ’s death, the state says its investigation of the incident is ongoing, but that is no comfort to DJ’s mom.

“This nurse is still out there taking care of three other quadriplegics I know of right now with a license and the state of Wisconsin is paying them. I don`t have any input in any of this,” Frederick said.

Frederick knows she can’t bring DJ back, but she wants to make sure that lightning doesn’t strike twice.

If you are looking to hire a home health nurse, find out if they are bonded or insured, so that both they and you are protected if something happens.

As for what’s next for Frederick, according to emails provided to FOX6 News between Frederick and a state investigator, the state has made some kind of offer to to the nurse in terms of discipline over this incident. However, the state will not say what that offer entails.

If the nurse accepts the offer, it will be entered as a final order, and become a public record.

If the nurse declines the offer, the case could go to a public hearing, which could string this out another six months or more.

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