Liberty High School sophomore Juanya Spady would not have died two years ago after collapsing in class if teachers and other school personnel had acted more quickly to save his life, a federal civil rights lawsuit filed this week alleges.
The English teacher conducting the class where Juanya collapsed on Dec. 2, 2010 failed to act for 10 minutes, which left students to tend to the 16-year-old and to run out into the hall to summon a monitor to seek medical assistance, the lawsuit claims.
The lawsuit brought by Juanya’s mother, Mica Spady of Bethlehem, against the Bethlehem Area School District seeks a jury trial and $150,000 in damages.
The allegations in the lawsuit paint a picture of confusion at Liberty High School for nearly 20 minutes while personnel debated the “advisability” of calling for an ambulance:
- Repeated transmissions were made to the nurse's office "begging" for emergency medical assistance, but the response was delayed because they could not determine the boy's name.
- An automated external defibrillator was brought to the room and used on the teen, though he was breathing, albeit in an “agonal” state, with pink frothy liquid emanating from Juanya’s mouth and nose.
- The nurse’s call for a pair of scissors to cut off the boy’s shirt to properly administer to him went ignored.
An ambulance was finally called to the scene at 10:48 a.m. and arrived four minutes later -- 22 minutes after the boy first collapsed at his desk, the lawsuit says. An hour after the ambulance was called, he was pronounced dead at St. Luke’s Hospital in Fountain Hill.
The lawsuit also alleges that Juanya had been forced to participate in a swimming class earlier that morning, though he complained to the physical education teacher, Carlton Rodgers, that he did not believe he was feeling well enough to.
Juanya had “extreme difficultly attempting to swim,” and “was seen repeatedly thrashing around in the pool, attempting to stay afloat,” the lawsuit says. He needed help from other students to leave the pool, but by that point had “inhaled excessive amounts of water and pool chemicals.”
The Lehigh County Coroner’s office ruled that Juanya died from a seizure disorder, but in the lawsuit, his mother says he had no history of such a disorder nor any cardiopulmonary problems.
The lawsuit alleges “that if proper emergency response protocols had been established and functional at Liberty High School … there would not have been a substantial delay in Juanya receiving EMS treatment and transport to a proper emergency care facility.”
It also alleges “that the delay in seeking EMS assistance was a substantial contributing factor in [Juanya’s] demise.”
“To this very day, not one single member of the BASD administration or staff has contacted [Spady] and explained to her the details of the tragic events, which resulted in her son's death, and what steps are being taken to assure that such events will not recur, thus depriving her of even that modicum of closure, and exacerbating her anguish and distress,” the lawsuit says.
The lawsuit specifically names Superintendent Joseph J. Roy; Rodgers, the swim class teacher; school nurses Susan Dalton and Kathleen Halkins; as well as the “English teacher” and several other employees who were referred to as John or Jane Doe.
The lawsuit also names current Liberty High School Principal Harrison Bailey III, though Bailey did not work for the school district at the time of Juanya’s death. JoAnn Durante was Liberty’s principal when the incident occurred.