No answer at 911 nearly cost the life of an East Dallas 5-year-old

Editor’s note: Last names have been removed to protect medical privacy.

Meredith moved from East Texas to Far East Dallas last month, but her first impression has been rocky at best.

She moved away from extended family to bring her son closer to the medical experts at Baylor. Ethan, 5, suffers from an especially aggressive form of epilepsy, one that often cuts off his airway and requires hospitalization. Their first night in Dallas on Feb. 23, Ethan collapsed into “one of his typical seizures,” says Meredith, spoken like a mother who has watched too many to be phased by them anymore.

Out of habit and caution, she almost always calls 911 — but she never got a busy signal. “Even when we lived out in the boonies that didn’t happen,” she says.

She hung up after a few minutes when it was clear Ethan would be fine. She says the dispatcher who called her back a few minutes later was extremely apologetic.

“I felt bad for [the dispatcher], they’re more than fed up with this nonsense,” she says.

As most have likely read, a technical glitch seemingly caused by T-Mobile has jammed Dallas’ emergency system for more than a month. Police say whenever a T-Mobile user called 911, their phone would then make repeated “ghost calls” without their knowledge, which register as hang-ups for 911 dispatchers. Because dispatchers are required to call back every hang up to see if the person is OK, the system quickly got overwhelmed, leading to long wait times for emergencies. On Monday, at one point, 360 emergency callers were on hold waiting to speak to dispatchers, the city reported.

That likely included Meredith, and this time the situation was not so simple. Ethan had one of the most severe seizures of his young life and he wasn’t getting proper oxygen. Meredith sat on hold, watching her son turn more and more blue, feeling heartsick and helpless.

“That was the definition of panic,” she says.

After 4 minutes on hold, she decided she couldn’t wait. She scooped Ethan up and rushed him to the nearest hospital. She stayed on her cellphone, hoping to at least explain to emergency services why a car was barreling through traffic, for a total of 16 minutes before she got to the hospital and hung up.

Ethan required several days of hospitalization, his little body is slow to recover and still dealing with the effects of the seizure. Meredith is also struggling to heal — she’s anxious at the thought of going home while the 911 system remains jammed.

“What if he has another one?” she asks, “And I can’t call 911 again?”

Her son needs the medical experts at Baylor, but she’s even considered giving up her lease and moving home to East Texas. “At least someone answers when I call 911 there,” she says.

City officials have said they are working with T-Mobile daily to correct the problem, which is also plaguing dispatchers in Denver. It’s unclear when a solution will be found.

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