Elizabeth Bell inquiry finds Lifeline necklace strangled senior, urges replacement
Medical alerts must come with breakaway cords, fatality inquiry concludes
The accidental strangulation of a 72-year-old woman has led an Alberta judge to recommend that health authorities ensure all Lifeline emergency pendants come with breakaway cords.
"She didn't deserve to go this way," said Stacy Greenwood, daughter of Elizabeth Bell.
An investigation by the medical examiner found Bell asphyxiated in February 2013 when her Philips Lifeline pendant, worn around her neck, became entangled in her walker and strangled her.
"The thing that was supposed to save her, killed her," Greenwood said.
The lanyards, which can be worn around the wrist or neck, are designed to notify emergency services when the Lifeline button is pushed.
Bell, who lived alone and suffered from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, had first been fitted with a wrist lanyard in 2008.
Manufacturer warned of risk
That same year, the manufacturer, Philips, began making Lifeline pendants with a "breakaway cord" designed to come apart when pressure is exerted on it.
In 2009, the U.S. Food and and Drug Administration said it was aware of at least four choking deaths involving the medical alert necklaces.
The company released a warning stating that the non-breakaway model of the pendant could pose a strangulation risk, noting that risk was higher among those who used walkers.
Philips stopped producing the older model in 2011, but never issued a product recall.
When Bell was switched to a Lifeline necklace in 2013, she was given an older model with a non-breakaway cord.
"In our case, if our mother had the breakaway cord, there is a chance she could still be alive," Greenwood said.
Following Bell’s death, Ponoka Family & Community Support Services, which distributes Lifeline devices in the Ponoka area, ordered breakaway cords for all patients who were still using the older model.
In his fatality report, Judge Bart Rosborough commended the support service for taking steps to replace the older pendants with the safer breakaway models and recommended Alberta Health Services and Health Canada work with Philips to take similar steps.
Alberta Health Services said it will work with its home-care providers to make sure none of the old models remain in use.
Bell's family hopes those changes come soon.
"What my sister and I both wanted, prevent it from happening for anyone else," Greenwood said.
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