Location: New Brunswick, New Jersey
Date: July 14, 1990
On July 14, 1990, New Brunswick, New Jersey, Police Department Dispatcher Rosa Natal received two prank calls in a row. They were from youngsters singing, "911 is a joke." Calls like that make Natal angry. "You try to call back and explain to their parents that 911 is not a joke."
A little while later, another emergency call came in. Again, it was a little boy on the line. "Are you playing with the phone?" Natal asked in a stern voice. She felt an urge to hang up on him. "No, replied the caller, "I need an ambulance. My mama's sick." Natal heard the panic in the boy's voice and wondered if this call was for real. "Where's your mom?" "In the kitchen." "What's your name?" "Patrick." "What floor do you live on?" "Mama, what floor do we live on?" When Natal heard a woman call out, "It's a residential home," she became convinced the call was not a prank but legitimate.
EMTs Mike Calabrese and Steve Pawlak were dispatched to the residence from Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital. When they arrived at the house four minutes later, two little boys were standing outside, frantically waving down the ambulance. They were five-year-old Patrick Hammond, with whom Natal had spoken, and his three-year-old brother, Matthew.
The paramedics found the boys' mother, Joan Hammond, seated at the kitchen table. She was pale and vomiting. The medics took her medical history and checked her vital signs, which showed that she had extremely high blood pressure. They were unable to determine the cause of her problem but assessed that she was in critical condition.
A neighbor came over to look after Patrick and Matthew, and as the ambulance pulled away, the boys waved good-bye. "When the paramedics took my mother away, Matthew was scared," recalls Patrick, "but I told him, 'Our mother's going to be all right.' We both started crying because we really loved her."
A doctor examined Joan in the hospital's emergency room. She was almost unconscious and her condition was deteriorating. The doctor was puzzled about the cause of her medical problem until he ordered a CAT scan, which revealed evidence of bleeding in her brain from a ruptured blood vessel. Surgery was out of the question, because the hemorrhage was too deep within the brain. Joan would have to be treated with medication. For the next forty-eight hours, she hung between life and death.
Happily, Joan responded extremely well to treatment. After two days, she regained consciousness and was able to speak. Three weeks later, she was discharged from the hospital, having suffered no permanent damage as a result of the hemorrhage. When she returned home, Patrick and Matthew were very excited to see her.
"It's overwhelming," says Joan, "the fact that your child has saved your life. I'm well blessed to have these children." She also praises dispatcher Rosa Natal, who persisted in questioning Patrick so she could determine whether there was a true emergency. "Patrick's the one who deserves the hugs and kisses," says Natal, "because he did a wonderful job. He's not my son, but I feel proud."
Joan says parents should explain to their children not to make prank calls to 911. While they're fooling around on the phone, there may be someone who really does need help and can't get through.