If Christy Mitchell goes without her special medication for more than a couple of hours, she will die.
Mitchell suffers from pulmonary arterial hypertension, a rare disease treated with medicine that's pumped into her body every two minutes so that her blood and oxygen will flow normally.
After Mitchell's pump malfunctioned last Friday morning, she and a friend drove to the emergency room at Gwinnett Medical Center in the Atlanta metropolitan area.
But Mitchell's troubles were just beginning.
She ended up waiting for 35 minutes to get medical attention — and by that point she'd been without her pump for more than an hour, WGCL-TV reported.
"I felt helpless," Mitchell told the station. "We even asked if we could call the PA from Emory that works with me all the time so that she could explain how important it was for this medication to be restarted, and her response was they have no jurisdiction here."
"I feared that she was going to die on that bed before a nurse even entered her room," said her friend, Brannon Chappell. "Not once did a nurse walk through the threshold of that door to check on her."
But Mitchell had a workaround: She and Chappell left the hospital, drove to a shopping center across the street from a fire department, and called 911.
"I was starting to panic because the real fear of what could happen was hitting me," Mitchell said.
Paramedics arrived moments later and got Mitchell stable after hooking her up to an IV with her medicine.
"Making that decision to leave the ER was the hardest thing I've ever done in my life," Chappell said.
Mitchell's specialist said he's not surprised she didn't get immediate care, given that only a few doctors in the state know how to treat her disease.
But there apparently was a simple stopgap all along.
"They don't have to know how to manage the pump or manage the medication at that hospital," pulmonary specialist Dr. Micah Fisher told the station. "They just need to know how to put an IV in and the patient can do everything else."
Gwinnett Medical Center released a statement after the incident, saying that while it couldn't comment on specific cases, ER patients "are assessed and treated based on acuity."
"While we are unable to provide specific details on our patients, we can share applicable patient protocols," the statement said. "In regards to the emergency room, patients are assessed and treated based on acuity. Furthermore, initiation of certain treatments require physician orders to ensure patient safety. In addition, Gwinnett Medical Center has a process to address the concerns of patients or their family members. We highly encourage those individuals to take advantage of this service."
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