A mother of three from Florida died days after experiencing a stroke, and the four paramedics who arrived on scene have now been suspended after an investigation revealed they mishandled the response, PEOPLE confirms.
In the early morning hours of July 4, Nicole Black found her daughter, 30-year-old Crystle Galloway, unresponsive in a bathtub just six days after she had given birth to a son via cesarean. When Galloway regained consciousness a short time later and complained about her head, Black quickly called emergency services and explained that her daughter was breathing but was “drooling from the mouth,” she told the Tampa Bay Times.
But when Hillsborough County Fire Rescue officials arrived, Black claims that instead of providing immediate treatment, they questioned whether the family could afford the ambulance ride to the hospital — an account that the medics dispute.
“My daughter begged for her life,” she said. “The only thing they were worried about was my daughter had a new baby and she couldn’t afford an ambulance.”
After the medics carried Galloway down three flights, Black claims they continued to spend time talking about the cost of the ambulance. Black told ABC Action News that she then decided to transport her daughter herself.
“The whole conversation as the EMS drivers put my child in my car was that [it] was best for us because we couldn’t afford an ambulance,” she told the news station. “My daughter begged for her life, she begged!”
Once at Brandon Regional Hospital, scans revealed Galloway’s brain was bleeding, and she was then airlifted to Tampa General Hospital. She fell into a coma and passed away on July 9, just days before her 31st birthday.
But statements from the paramedics contradict Black’s account, according to the Times, and they say she voluntarily offered to take her daughter to the hospital and only requested their help to move her downstairs after she spoke with two sheriff’s deputies who first arrived on the scene.
In a statement sent to PEOPLE by the Hillsborough County Fire Rescue, Lt. John “Mike” Morris said the medics would have transported Galloway had her condition seemed “critical” when they arrived.
“If the daughter presented that she was critical,” Lt. Morris explained, “I’m certain our crew would have highly advised that the daughter be transported by EMS.”
An investigation into the conduct of the medics was launched days after the incident, and Hillsborough County Administrator Mike Merrill told reporters during a press conference on Monday that while the medics “did a lot of things wrong,” they found no evidence that the medics engaged in any conversation about ambulance cost with Black.
“There were discussions between the mother and the deputies concerning cost, primarily driven by questions from the mother, which may have led to her conclusion or statements that she wanted to transport her daughter,” Merrill said. “My guys did a lot of things wrong here, and we take responsibility. From the record I have, that’s not one of the things they did wrong.”
But the county’s investigation into the matter found that Morris and three other medics were in “gross neglect of duty” after they failed to properly check Galloway’s vital signs, they said in a statement obtained by PEOPLE.
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The inquiry also found the medics failed to have either of the women sign an informed consent document that showed they declined transportation. Not only that, they submitted paperwork claiming they could not find Galloway when responding to the call.
In a statement to PEOPLE, the department confirmed that the responding medics — Lt. Morris, 36; Fire Medic Justin Sweeney, 36; Fire Medic Andrew J. Martin, 28; and Acting Lt. Cortney Barton, 38 — have all been suspended with pay.
“Based on the facts and statements obtained during the review of this incident by Human Resources, the information indicates that the four Fire Rescue personnel did not perform their duties,” the statement reads. “The review indicates several Hillsborough County Fire Rescue Standard Operating Procedures were violated during this incident.”
The employment status of the medics will be determined in a disciplinary hearing on Tuesday, July 31, Merrill adds.
According to the Times, the Hillsborough Sheriff’s Office cleared the two sheriff’s who initially arrived on the scene of any violation of policy.
Black recently set up a GoFundMe page to raise funds to help her provide for her two granddaughters, ages 13 and 7, and her newborn grandson.
“You know that this is a nightmare for me,” she wrote on the page. “I buried my daughter.”
Strokes following a pregnancy are not entirely uncommon, as a 2008 study found that pregnant women who have a cesarean section may be more likely to experience a stroke in the year following their delivery than women who give birth vaginally, Reuters reports.
While the accounts of that July 4 morning may differ, Black’s pain remains irrefutable.
“She’s 30 years old and just graduated from college, she had her whole life ahead of her,” Black told ABC Actions News of her daughter. “You can tell me you’re sorry, you can give me your condolences but you still have to work this out with God.”