Family’s grief for ‘gentle giant’ Eddie after fatal ambulance wait

The family of an Adelaide man who died after waiting more than 10 hours for an ambulance say he was failed by the state’s health system.

Jan 10, 2024, updated Jan 15, 2024
The dead man's Uncle Steven and Aunt Brenda speaking to media on Wednesday morning. Photo: Tony Lewis/InDaily

The dead man's Uncle Steven and Aunt Brenda speaking to media on Wednesday morning. Photo: Tony Lewis/InDaily

Steven and Brenda – the aunt and uncle of 54-year-old Hectorville man “Eddie” who became the face of South Australia’s ramping crisis last week – told reporters today their nephew was an  “eternal child” and a “great kid”.

“Eddie was a gentle giant,” Brenda said.

“He was a kid, and he was always going to be a kid.

“That was his life. He was a lovely lad.”

A triple zero call from Eddie’s disability care home was made on December 27 to report he was suffering abdominal pain and vomiting. He was assessed as requiring an ambulance within 60 minutes.

But due to significant ramping and pressure on the hospital system that night, an ambulance did not arrive for more than 10 hours.

Eddie’s condition deteriorated and he was upgraded to a priority one with an ambulance arriving within four minutes, but he died.

Eddie’s uncle, Steven, said his nephew didn’t have a voice.

“He was an eternal child that was extremely… sick throughout his life,” Steve said.

“But he needed help, and he didn’t receive the help he richly deserved.

The identity of the man who tragically died on December 27 waiting for an ambulance has been confirmed. #9News


— 9News Adelaide (@9NewsAdel) January 4, 2024

“He didn’t have a voice. He couldn’t tell anybody ‘please get the ambulance to me, I need it desperately’.

“He couldn’t talk, so he just had to suffer while calls were made, and he just didn’t make it… when the ambulance arrived it was just too late for him.

“He was a great kid in his way, but he was also a man who should have been treated with more respect and dignity.

“We’re just so disappointed with the outcome of all this. Especially when we had to put up with the anguish of photographs that were being shown on TV with my sister (Eddie’s Mum).”

Steven later added that Eddie “must have been feeling like he was going through hell with the pain”.

“I would have thought that a person with a disability that he may have had more of a priority than was given,” he said.

“To wait 10 hours is just not on.”

Steven and Brenda appeared at a media conference today alongside Opposition leader David Speirs and Opposition health spokesperson Ashton Hurn.

Brenda and Steven speaking to the media today in front of Opposition health spokesperson Ashton Hurn. Photo: Tony Lewis/InDaily

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The family said Eddie’s mother was hospitalised because of the incident and is “absolutely broken”.

They also indicated they were not fully aware of the circumstances of Eddie’s death until it appeared on the TV news on January 5 – more than a week after his death – although police had notified the mother.

“Police had mentioned something about the ambulance didn’t come in time and he had passed away, and then… basically it didn’t really sink in properly for her,” Steven said.

“She’s 82 years old and she was watching TV with me because I had to go around to see her for another reasons and it suddenly came on TV, and that was devastating for both of us.

“We couldn’t believe what we’d seen, to tell you the truth.”

Last week, Premier Peter Malinauskas said Eddie’s family had a right to feel angry about the case and vowed to continue the government’s efforts to fix ambulance ramping, which rose to a record 4285 hours in November.

Labor promised before the election to “fix the ramping crisis” and invest more in the health system.

Brenda called on the government to fulfil its promise.

“Mr Malinauskas, you promised South Australia that you were going to fix the ramping – you have failed,” she said.

“Eddie is another statistic and we want to be here today to make somebody responsible and someone needs to step up the mark and take account for what you’ve done.

“We do not want another family to go through what we’ve gone through. We don’t want anymore deaths. Fix the ramping, fix the health system that you promised to fix.

“Wake up Mr Malinauskas. This is your fault, your problem, fix it, and the buck stops with you.”

A government spokesperson said Eddie’s case was under review.

“Senior SA Ambulance staff spoke with Eddie’s mother over the phone on Monday and offered her an in-person meeting with the reviewers of Eddie’s case, including SA Ambulance’s Chief Medical Adviser Dr Amy Keir,” the spokesperson said.

“SAAS is following up again with Eddie’s mother today to try and confirm a time for this meeting.

“The reviewers will make themselves available to speak with Eddie’s aunt and uncle. One of the issues the review will examine is the circumstance of the triage of Eddie’s case as a Category 5.

“Once the case was upgraded to a Category 1 an ambulance arrived in four minutes. While we have already invested billions of dollars in improving the health system, we know much more needs to be done with more doctors, nurses, paramedics and hospital beds being hired and built.”

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