Moving the HME Industry Forward

Respiratory/Sleep

Driver in Bronx Train Tragedy Had Severe Sleep Apnea

April 14, 2014

NEW YORK – The driver of a train that derailed late last year in New
York City, killing four passengers, reportedly suffered from “severe
sleep apnea.” According to the National Transportation Safety Board, William Rockefeller,
the engineer at the controls of the Metro-North commuter train that
derailed in the Bronx, had the sleep disorder at the time of the
accident, and it had not previously been diagnosed.

In a development that could have wide-ranging implications for
those who treat sleep disorders and/or sell sleep-related equipment,
Reuters and other news outlets confirmed what those in the industry
already knew, namely that sleep apnea can “cause drowsiness.”

“I was dazed, you know, looking straight ahead, almost like
mesmerized,” Rockefeller reportedly told investigators. “I don’t know if
anybody’s ever experienced like driving a long period of time in a car
and staring at the tail lights in front of them, and you get almost like
that hypnotic feeling staring straight ahead.”

“The disorder, characterized by shallow or interrupted breathing
during sleep, often goes undiagnosed, according to the U.S. National
Institutes of Health,” wrote Jonathan Allen of Reuters. “Jeffrey
Chartier, Rockefeller’s lawyer, also confirmed the diagnosis, saying
Rockefeller cooperated with investigators and provided access to his
medical records.”

Rockefeller’s last routine physical examination for Metro-North
was in May 2011, and his last visit to his own doctor was in May 2013,
the report said. “Before the accident, doctors had diagnosed Rockefeller
as obese and having hypothyroidism, high cholesterol, low testosterone,
vitamin D and B12 deficiencies, and mild high-frequency hearing loss,”
wrote wrote Jonathan Allen of Reuters.

“This
accident is a tragic reminder of the importance of knowing the signs
and symptoms of sleep apnea, and of seeking treatment,” says Jim Hollingshead (pictured left),
president, ResMed Americas (Booth #1317). “Although the awareness of the dangers of
untreated sleep apnea has grown over the past several years, it is still
significantly underdiagnosed.”

Brian Palmer, product marketing director, Sleep, DeVilbiss
Healthcare (Booth #1827), points out that the train derailment in the Bronx is stark
evidence that sleep apnea is more than just a nuisance for a person and
his/her bed partner. “The disease can have significant impact on a
person’s life, and the lives of those with whom they interact. According
to the American Sleep Apnea Association, approximately 22 million
Americans suffer from sleep apnea, with 80% of the moderate to severe
cases being undiagnosed.”

“Many studies state that being sleep deprived and driving is
just as dangerous, if not more dangerous, than driving drunk,” adds
Samantha McClure, operations project manager, Airway Management,
Carrollton, Tex. “The lack of oxygen due to OSA puts extra stress on the
entire body and can trigger serious health problems like chronic
sleepiness, heart attack, high blood pressure, and stroke.”

According to Laura Casto, vice president of Marketing for Roscoe
Medical (Booth #1516), Strongsville, Ohio, the solution is raising the awareness of
sleep apnea and promoting the treatment. “We can prevent accidents
caused by this condition,” she says. “Obstructive sleep apnea is a
disease that can be very dangerous, not only to those who suffer from
it, but also to others, as seen by the recent train derailment late last
year in New York City.”

Bob Rutan, founder of Naturs Design (Booth #1756), a Mich-based company that
makes RemZzzs CPAP liners, believes regulators should mandate sleep
apnea testing for everyone directly involved in public transportation.
“Many occupations include physical requirements as part of qualifying
for a particular job,” he says. “Those who operate public transportation
vehicles are daily responsible for thousands of lives, and I believe it
should be a job requirement to be evaluated for sleep apnea, and
receive treatment if the condition is present.”

“We will never know if a diagnosis of sleep apnea [prior to the
accident], along with CPAP or BiPAP, could have averted this awful
accident,” laments Georgie Blackburn, vice president, Government
Relations and Legislative Affairs, BLACBURN’S. “I have seen PAP therapy
work wonders for people close to me. Not only is the diagnosis critical,
but the education we give as suppliers—and the commitment to compliance
by patient—are absolutely necessary to achieve successful outcomes.” 

At this year’s Medtrade in Atlanta, scheduled for October 20-23, companies such as those represented above will be offering multiple solutions to serve sleep apnea patients.