Air conditioning coils fall, trap hospital worker

January 20, 2011 2:58:00 PM PST
A west suburban hospital worker is recovering after being trapped under more than two tons of metal.

The accident happened Wednesday night just after 10 o'clock at Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital in Downers Grove. Two maintenance workers were in a mechanical room when the air conditioning coils fell on them.

One worker got free and called for help, but it took nearly an hour and a half for emergency crews to free the other man, who was taken to the emergency room and then into surgery. That worker's condition was upgrade to fair on Thursday.

"The patient was fading away. He was not doing well. This was a terrible situation," said Dr. James Cole, trauma surgeon.

The two maintenance workers had been working in a maintenance room on the second floor when the air conditioning units weighing close to 5,000 pounds, according to fire department officials, fell on one of the workers and pinned him against a wall.

"It was compressing his abdomen just inches from his chest and inches from his pelvis. The compression was enormous. He was awake and conversant but in a terrible amount of pain.

Paramedic Mike Baldwin entered the small dangerous quarters in an attempt to save the victim's life.

"I just wanted to establish and maintain an airway and getting an initial set of vitals," said Baldwin.

Dr. Cole says he guided Baldwin on how to intubate the victim while both were standing up in close quarters. Baldwin had to look at a screen for directions.

It took nearly two hours to extricate the worker from the accident scene. He no longer had a pulse and had gone into cardiac arrest. He is now listed in fair condition and everyone involved is calling his recovery a miracle.

"To put a breathing tube in this position, with limited access to the patient's body he had, in as close of a quarters as he was, in an austere environment, it was impossible. It was nearly impossible to do what he did," said Dr. Cole.

Both of the victims said, "thank God for the abilities of all the guys and that they knew what they were doing."

Dr. Cole and paramedic Baldwin said their military training helped them to be composed and focused on saving the patient's life.