Location: Federal Way, Washington
Date: June 10, 1992
Even people who are accustomed to living with diabetics can encounter emergency situations that seem overwhelming, as 6-year-old Samantha Barth of Federal Way, Washington, discovered on the afternoon of June 10, 1992.
Samantha had been looking forward all day to spending the afternoon with her father, Nels. But as he was driving her home from the day care center, she began to worry that something was seriously wrong. "My daddy picked me up from the day care," Samantha said, "and he was driving real fast and going in lanes that he wasn't supposed to be in. When we got home, he was just sitting in the car. I had to get out and pull him out." She tugged at his hand until he sluggishly stepped out of the car.
"You all right?" Samantha asked. "Yeah," Nels responded listlessly. "I didn't know what was happening to Daddy, and he was acting real weird," Samantha said. He went to lie down on the couch, while she turned on the television set and began watching it from a chair nearby. "Are you okay, Daddy?" she asked anxiously, after a few minutes. "Yeah," Nels mumbled. "Daddy, I think it's time for something to eat." Samantha said.
"Sometimes my daddy has problems with his blood sugar," Samantha later explained, "so I thought I should get him something to eat. I climbed up on a chair to get the oranges and chips. I thought about honey, but I said, 'No, it's too much of a mess.' I tried giving him an orange, but he wouldn't eat it. He said he didn't like oranges, but he does."
Samantha touched Nels' forearm and felt the cold wetness of his skin. "Dad, you're sweaty," she said. "My mom told me that you've always got to check his wrist to see if he's sweaty or not," Samantha explained. "If he's sweaty, he's either low or high. And so I just had to save his life." Samantha immediately dialed 911.
"Fire Department, Medic One, what is the address of the problem?" asked Federal Way fire dispatcher Pat Everett, who took the call. "I have to go outside and look. Is that okay?" asked Samantha. "Yes," said Everett. Samantha came back to the phone with the address. "Is that where you're calling?" "Yes." "And that's where the problem is?" "Yes." "Okay, what's the matter?" "I think my daddy is low," Samantha said, "and he's a diabetic." "You think he's low?" Everett asked, to be certain she was getting the information correctly.
"When she told me that her daddy was low and that he was a diabetic, the first think I was thinking was that I hope he's not truly unconscious and that this man needs CPR," Everett said. "Is he awake?" she asked Samantha. "No." "He's not awake?" "No." "How old are you?" "I'm 6," Samantha answered. "You're 6 and you're there by yourself?" "Yes." "Okay, can you go over there and shake your daddy and see if he'll wake up?" Everett asked. "Okay." "Okay, you go over there and shake him. I have help on the way, but don't hang up. Go shake him and see if he wakes up, okay?" "Okay." "And come back to the phone," Everett said. "If he wakes up, do you want to talk to him then?" Samantha asked. "You just see if you can wake him up--shake him hard," Everett said. "You go do that and then come back to the phone."
Rescue units were immediately dispatched, including King County paramedic Chris Merritt. "Insulin shock can rapidly progress to complete coma," he explained, "and if sugar is not administered orally or intravenously, the patient will die," said Merritt.
"It's scary being all alone with your daddy and nobody with you, when he's low on sugar," Samantha said. She went back to Nels and began shaking him and calling out, "Daddy, Daddy!" as loudly as she could. Although he grunted in response, he did not awaken. She went back to the phone to report her failure.
Everett relayed the information to the rescuers en route, as another dispatcher took over talking to Samantha. "Listen carefully now," he told her. "The aid car is on its way over there already." "I just can't want till my mom gets home," Samantha said. "I'm real scared." "They'll be right there to see you, okay?" "Okay." "You did a good job, honey," the dispatcher told her. "Now can I call my mom?" Samantha asked. "Yes," he said.
Within 3 minutes of the call, the first rescue units arrived on the scene. "When the medics came, I was hoping they would make him feel better," Samantha said. Lieutenant Robert Shinnett, an EMT, took charge. "When we arrived at the scene, it was just at the point where he was going to start to be more critical," Shinnett said. "Nels, we're going to put some glucose in your mouth. Can you hear me all right?" he asked him, who grunted to indicate that he had heard what was said to him. "He was able to take a little bit of it orally, but obviously he was so far out that he needed more medical attention," Shinnett said.
Moments later, the advanced life support unit arrived. "We knew what the problem was, but we needed to confirm it," Shinnett said. "We found his blood sugar to be at 20, which is extremely low--dangerously low, in fact. A normal blood sugar is about 120. So we administered two intravenous doses of D50W, which is a highly concentrated sugar solution, and within just minutes, he was alert and oriented and thanking us for waking him up." Samantha began bringing Nels things to eat to bring his blood sugar up even farther.
"The problem I had that day definitely threw me," Nels later said. "I knew there was something wrong, but I had mistaken having low blood sugar for just being fatigued. Samantha just did a fantastic job." "If her parents had not educated her on the signs and symptoms of insulin shock, I'm sure he would have lain there and died," Shinnett said. "Samantha was just fabulous," said Everett. "She saw that Daddy was in an obvious diabetic state, that he was having a crisis. She assessed the situation and took immediate action. She's 6 years old--she's one in a million." "They fixed him all up and then it was all over with, and then I lay down on the couch and went to sleep and then Mommy came home," Samantha said.
The fire department later presented Samantha with an award for saving Nels' life. "To think that a 6-year-old can pick up a phone and dial 911 and be able to explain the symptoms of a disease is amazing. I'm very proud of Samantha," said her mother, Robyn. "I'm surprised that Samantha reacted the way that she did, and obviously relieved," said Nels. "I think pride in my daughter is almost an understatement there."
"Just because they're children does not mean that they can't react in the face of an emergency," said Everett. "They're a lot more receptive than we think they are. We don't give them enough credit." "I'm happier than anything in the whole entire world," said Samantha, "because I saved my daddy's life and I love him infinity."