Tuesday, August 26, 2014

My request to the NJ Attorney General's Consumer Affairs Division to investigate problematic training of lifeguards at Jersey Shore water parks

Steve C. Lee (photo from his online bio)

From a letter I sent yesterday -- click here to download a copy:

Steve C. Lee
Acting Director
N.J. Division of Consumer Affairs
New Jersey Office of the Attorney General
P.O. Box 45025
Newark, NJ 07101

Dear Mr. Lee:

Based on media reports, at least four New Jersey water parks appear to be putting the public at risk by training their lifeguards to perform an unapproved, experimental, thoroughly-discredited drowning rescue treatment.

This is to request that your agency review the following information, interview the water park employees responsible for overseeing their companies' lifeguard training, and provide me with a determination of your findings.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

What do a prominent medical historian/author, the PBS ombudsman, and actress Halle Berry have in common? My NewsHour corrections request saga! [UPDATED]


Never underestimate the lengths to which some academics and media professionals will go:

A) To avoid admitting they made mistakes.
B) To refuse to correct them.

That may be the moral of this tale about a prominent medical historian/physician/author and his editor at the PBS NewsHour who, as a result of their unwillingness to properly handle a simple corrections request, made possible this item.

It stars with How Dr. Heimlich got his maneuver 40 years ago by Dr. Howard Markel, published June 16 on the website of the PBS NewsHour.

Overall, it was a solid story and I appreciated this inclusion (and link to my website):

However, I spotted a two easy-to-fix factual date errors and, since I'm sort of an unauthorized archivist of my father's career, I was curious to obtain citations to documents on which Dr. Markel based two claims in his article.

I assumed any self-respecting historian, especially one with his reputation, would be want to get dates right and that he'd be glad to send me the requested citations.

Also, I always welcome an opportunity to pick the brains of experts, so I thought Dr. Markel might be willing and able to analyze some statistics I reported about last year (re: another Public Broadcasting story), Radiolab's junk reporting: my investigation requests to the National Science Foundation & WNYC -- and some surprising statistics about choking deaths.

So on June 16, I sent Dr. Markel a courteous e-mail, complimenting him for doing a good job, politely requesting the two date corrections based on published information I included, and asking for supporting documentation about the two claims he made.

To my surprise, I completely struck out.

Dr. Markel punted my request to his NewsHour editor, Margaret Myers. Long story short, in an exchange of about a half-dozen e-mails, they refused to correct the errors, to adequately substantiate the two claims, and he expressed no interest in the choking death stats. (Click here to download a pdf.)

Confident I was on firm ground, I took it to PBS ombudsman Michael Getler in this June 30 request. (Click here to download.)

Next, another surprise.

Without contacting me or asking permission to make public my request, a few days later, Getler posted an item on his blog, Warning: Chewing on This May Cause Choking.

On the plus side of the ledger, he did a thorough job and got responses from Dr. Markel that might charitably be described as elliptical.

But, inexplicably, Getler couldn't resist throwing this spitball at yours truly.

Let me get this straight.

I ask him to review reportorial problems with a NewsHour story. Then, without knowing anything about the decade of research by my wife and I into my father's singular career and apparently unaware of the scores print and broadcast media reports based on our work, without asking me any questions, he publishes a false, assumptive, insulting claim about me.

What the heck, it's only my reputation and he's an ombudsman.


UPDATE, August 26: PBS ombudsman Getler just added this to his July 2 blog item:


Meanwhile, the false information was still in Dr. Markel's story, so I was back to square one.

In search of more information, last month I submitted a public records request to the University of Michigan for records associated with Dr. Markel's article. I'd corresponded with him via his university e-mail address, so those e-mails and presumably other related e-mails should be subject to the Michigan FOIA Act.

Then, yes, another surprise.

The university denied my FOIA on the grounds that "(any) responsive records that exist are Dr. Markel's personal records, and not public records pursuant to the Michigan Freedom of Information Act.

A professor's use of university e-mail for an outside writing gig is "personal"?

I don't think so, so a couple days ago I filed this appeal. (Click here to download.)

I know what you're thinking.

"Give up, Peter. It's not worth it and you're in the bureaucratic equivalent of the La Brea Tar Pits."

But wait, there's another surprise, and, finally, this one's in my favor.

Reporter Seth Abramovitch (source)

Via last week's must-read Hollywood Reporter expose, How Dr. Heimlich Maneuvered Hollywood Into Backing His Dangerous AIDS "Cure" by Seth Abramovitch (emphasis added):
The Heimlich Institute claims that 100,000 lives have been saved, and in his memoir, Heimlich's Maneuvers: My Seventy Years of Livesaving Innovation, published earlier this year, he includes those of Cher, Nicole Kidman and Halle Berry among them. Berry has denied being saved by the maneuver; Cher and Kidman didn't respond to inquiries.

Halle Berry (source)

Via Dr. Markel's article:
(The) Heimlich maneuver has helped to save countless lives over the past four decades including...Halle Berry.


Yesterday I wrote PBS NewsHour co-host and managing editor Judy Woodruff to ask for a published correction for the Halle Berry error, the other errors, and to review the reporting and editing of Dr. Markel's in order to determine if it meets the program's standards. (Click here to download.)

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

SCOOP: Annabel Melongo found NOT GUILTY in Save-A-Life Foundation computer tampering case

From an e-mail I just received from Annabel Melongo's attorney, Jennifer Bonjean (slightly edited for clarity):
Today Cook County Judge Joseph Joyce entered a directed finding in favor of Annabel. After 8 years, the State's case came down to a single allegation that Annabel accessed Carol Spizzirri's email and forwarded an email to herself. And they couldn't even prove that. It Is a text book example of the State failing to exercise its discretion and adhere to its duty to seek truth. We are all indebted to Annabel Melongo for having the courage to hold the State to its burden. She took enormous risk and we are all better off for it. 
Click here for Ms. Bonjean's contact information.

Click here for a compilation of media reports about the Melongo case.

Click here for a compilation of media reports about Carol Spizzirri and the Save-A-Life Foundation scandal.

What's next? 

As I reported last year, Ms. Melongo filed an ongoing civil rights suit in federal court. She's now being represented in that case by Ms. Bonjean.

Liar's Dice: Boise mayor, fire chief try to pull a fast one re: recent drowning, so I've asked the city's ethics commission to investigate [UPDATE: ethics committee to discuss my concerns at August 14 meeting]

City of Boise 2014 Ethics Commission: Peter J. Mundt, Dee Oldham, David Proctor (Chairman), Jodi Nafzger, Tony Roark (source)

On July 16, I reported how my letter to the mayor of Boise, Idaho, triggered a city investigation of a firefighter who told a TV news reporter that he performed the Heimlich maneuver to revive a drowning man.

Click here to watch the video -- this part's at timestamp 2:45. The first paragraph is out of the fireman's mouth. The second paragraph is out of the reporter's mouth.

As Sidebar readers know, "the Heimlich" for drowning rescue is unapproved and warned against as useless and potentially harmful by leading medical and water safety organizations, and its use has reportedly been associated with dozens of poor outcome cases.

The victim, a 56-year-old homeless man named Felix E. Martinez, formerly of Idaho City, died five days later, with no known family or friends.

Last week Boise Mayor David Bieter, Ada County Coroner Erwin Sonnenber, and Boise Fire Chief David Doan sent me e-mails -- get this -- denying the firefighter "Heimlich-ed" Martinez. 

Did I mention that the TV reporter confirmed to me via e-mail that the firefighter told him he used "the Heimlich" to get “water and sand out of (Martinez's) lungs”?

So today I sent another letter, this time to the City of Boise Ethics Commission, requesting an investigation of the investigation.

I also located case records for Felix Martinez via Boise County Court that led to his ex-wife who divorced in five years ago.

Per the bottom of the first page of my letter -- see below -- maybe she can help identify and locate her ex-husband's next of kin.

Click here to download a copy of my letter.

[7/30/14 UPDATE] This morning I received an e-mail from Elizabeth Koeckeritz, Boise Assistant City Attorney that stated, "The Commission has received your request for review. The Commission next meets on August 14 and we will discuss it at that time."

Via the city's website:

The Ethics Commission meets every 2nd Thursday of the month at 3p.m. in the Bonneville Room, 3rd Floor, Boise City Hall.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Boise Weekly: My inquiry triggers city investigation of drowning in which a fireman "Heimlich-ed" the victim


Clip from Police officer, firefighter team up to rescue man in canal by reporter Scott Evans, KTVB News, Boise, ID, June 25, 2014:

Via Question Triggers Probe into Drowning by reporter Harrison Berry in today's Boise Weekly:

In the late afternoon of June 23, Ada County Paramedics pulled Felix Martinez from the New York Canal.

He wasn't breathing. He had no pulse.

By the time Boise firefighter Brent Matthews dove into the canal, Martinez had been flowing with the current for an undetermined amount of time.

...Matthews said he used the Heimlich maneuver -- an emergency technique in which abdominal thrusts are repeated until a blockage is pushed out of a choking victim's airway -- until sand and other debris poured out of Martinez's mouth. Matthews then performed CPR for 25 minutes until he believed the victim had a pulse. Martinez was quickly loaded into an ambulance and taken to Saint Alphonsus Regional Medical Center.

Martinez's condition worsened; within five days, he was dead.

...Martinez, a homeless man, may not have attracted much attention prior to the incident, but because of the circumstances of his rescue, he has been the subject of a formal inquiry -- in large part because of Peter Heimlich, son of Dr. Henry Heimlich, for whom the maneuver is named.

...(Peter) Heimlich said when he first saw KTVB's report on the rescue, including the interview with Boise firefighter Matthews, he was incredulous.

"My first question was, 'What articles is [Matthews] talking about?"

Heimlich fired off a request for an inquest into the rescue and death of Martinez to the office of Mayor Dave Bieter...[Boise Weekly] confirmed that a copy of the request was received by Ada County Coroner Erwin Sonnenberg.

"A fireman is a city employee. He used an unapproved drowning-rescue treatment on a patient. At this point, there are no parties interested in finding out why Mr. Matthews performed this treatment on Mr. Martinez, and I think there needs to be some governmental oversight," Sonnenberg told Boise Weekly.

...Heimlich's attempts to spur an investigation by the Boise Fire Department have been successful, and an incident review is taking place so BFD can better discern the facts of the case.

Via reporter Tom Jackman's June 3, 2011 Washington Post article:

In Tampa, which has one of the highest drowning rates in the country, Dr. James Orlowski said he has documented nearly 40 cases where rescuers performing the Heimlich maneuver have caused complications for the victim. Orlowski is chief of pediatrics and pediatric intensive care at University Community Hospital in Tampa.

Click here for my compilation of reports and statements by medical and water safety organizations re: the use of the Heimlich maneuver to revive near-drowning victims. 

Sunday, July 13, 2014

"You're dumber than dirt": president of controversial lifeguard training company hurls insults at NBC Houston reporter

Via Lifeguards Trained In Controversial Procedure by Cindy Weightman, WBGO News (Newark, NJ Public Radio), June 30, 2014:

You’ve probably heard of the Heimlich Maneuver, a procedure commonly used when someone is choking on food.  What may surprise you is that the procedure is also being taught by at least one lifeguard training agency to respond to drownings.  The National Aquatic Safety Company, or NASCO, which trains lifeguards at four New Jersey waterparks, has been criticized for using a procedure that has been condemned almost universally in the medical community, including by the American Red Cross.

...Despite frequent opposition from the American Red Cross, the American Heart Association and other groups, NASCO continues to use the procedure. But what’s even stranger is that waterparks that have been criticized in the past for using the procedure, defend NASCO. Lou Cirigliano is the Director of Operations at Breakwater Beach, a waterpark in Seaside Heights.

“Just because the Red Cross has one opinion, that’s not the final answer. You’re gonna go to get open heart surgery, you’re probably going to go to two doctors who give you two different opinions. We use NASCO. Our park’s safety record speaks for itself. NASCO’s safety record speaks for itself.”
Asked whether it is worth the risk to continue using NASCO in spite of the controversy…

“If you want to talk to talk to NASCO, I’m going to direct you to them.

...I tried for several weeks to get in touch with NASCO before I finally got through to the company’s founder, John Hunsucker who told me they do not give interviews and I am wasting my time, right before he hung up on me.

Via Lifeguard training company won't abandon use of controversial technique by Joel Eisenbaum, KPRC News (Houston NBC affiliate), July 11, 2014:






There are two factual errors in Eisenbaum's otherwise solid report -- one's in the video version, one's in the text version. I've got a corrections request in to Rhonda LaVelle, Assistant News Director at KPRC and will report the results.

Click here for my compilation of media reports about NASCO's "Heimlich protocol."

Click here for my compilation of reports and statements by medical and water safety organizations re: the use of the Heimlich maneuver to revive near-drowning victims.