2012-06-15 / Top Stories

Teen Beach Cardiac Arrest Death Raises Questions

By Howard Schwach

It was a day at the beach like so many hot summer days in Rockaway for 13- year-old Christian Benitez and his older sister, Nicolette, so when she noticed her younger brother lying on the beach, apparently asleep on the lazy Memorial Day, she was not concerned.

Benitez, who had a long series of heart problems from birth and who suffered through several heart operations, was not asleep, but had suffered cardiac arrest.

He was brought back to life by paramedics and firefighters, but died after a short battle in the hospital on June 4.

And, while the medical technicians who rushed to the scene said that “it was a good scene, with firefighters from Engine 328 and lifeguards doing CPR,” questions have arisen about the availability of lifesaving equipment that could have brought the teen back sooner and perhaps prolonged his life.

At the time, eyewitnesses told The Wave that the response of the lifeguards was “atrocious,” that they could not come up with either oxygen or a defibrillator, a device in regular use to shock the heart and bring it back to normal rhythm.

“This could have been prevented,” a source told The Wave shortly after the teen was taken from Beach 120 Street. “The lifeguard lieutenant’s response was atrocious. An off-duty fireman and a nurse had to work on this kid with no equipment and the lifeguards just stood around.

They kept calling for an AED [defibrillator]. They couldn’t find one.”

According to the EMTs, Engine 328 did have a defibrillator and had started the process of initiating treatment when the ambulance arrived and used its machine to shock the heart into operation.

An eyewitness says that it took the ambulance nearly 10 minutes to get to the scene from the time that Nicolette first realized that her brother was not sleeping.

Sources close to the lifeguard community said that there is one defibrillator in each lifeguard shack and that only the lieutenants are trained and qualified to use the machines.

“They tried to get the lieutenant to bring the machine to Beach 120 Street, but were not successful,” the eyewitness said.

AEDs, automated external defibrillators, are used regularly in schools and other institutions around the nation. They range in price from about $1,100 to more than $2,500 and the directions are preprinted with the machine, making the lifesaving device easy for even untrained life-savers, the manufacturers say.

The city’s Department of Parks, which runs the lifeguard service, declined to comment about the availability of AEDs on Rockaway’s beaches.

The EMTs, Vince Flood and Sean Jospen, shocked the youth, intubated him and took him to Jamaica Hospital, where he later died.

Benitez, an outgoing youth, loved skateboarding and drawing, his mother said.

She reportedly blames nobody for her son’s death.

When he was an infant, Benitez’s mother was told by doctors that he would live only until the age of 12.

Benitez, who works at the Stop and Shop supermarket on Beach 72 Street in Arverne, told Daily News reporter Irving DeJohn that “He was full of life,” and that she was “very fortunate to have him for that time. Very lucky.”

The Rockaway community has reached out to the family to help Tammy Benitez pay her son’s funeral bill.

One local company, whose owner asked not to be identified, reportedly donated $5,000 towards the funeral.

Several hundred more were raised by the employees of the supermarket where she works.

She was also reportedly told by the store’s manager to take the time that she needs to grieve and not to worry about her job, that it would be there for her when she was ready to return to work.

The Graybeards, an organization with an office on Beach 129 Street in Rockaway Park, is also raising funds for the family and reportedly donated $5,000 as well.

Tammy told DeJohn that she was thankful and overwhelmed with the outpouring of support.

“How do you even put into words to thank people,” she asked DeJohn. “It’s two simple words, but I don’t think it’s enough.”

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