Duane Raible did not know it at the time, but in the early morning hours of Oct. 2 he was having a major stroke.
“The whole room went bizarre. I almost passed out. I pushed myself back to the bed and lay down,” Raible said. “I realized right then and there: something’s really wrong.”
Raible, 52, of Bangor, Pennsylvania, was in Chicago on business last month and stayed at the Thompson Chicago Hotel.
NBC 5 Investigates obtained recordings of two calls Raible made to 911 from his cell phone, and during the calls, the dispatchers repeatedly asked Raible for the address of the hotel at which he was staying.
During his first call to 911, Raible explained to a Chicago Fire Department dispatcher that he was dizzy, his face was numb and that he was at the Thompson Chicago Hotel.
“They asked me for the hotel address; my symptoms were very difficult to try to engage in that,” Raible recalled.
The dispatcher suggested Raible look on a business card or a receipt to find the hotel address.
“What’s the address? I don’t know,” Raible responded. “It’s very hard to talk – I don’t know what’s going on. If I move, I get nauseous.”
The dispatcher persisted.
“I understand, sir, but I’m not there. You are,” the dispatcher said. “So I need you to help yourself here, a little bit, and get us an address, so that we can get you an ambulance.”
Raible told the dispatcher he would call the front desk and he hung up the phone. But in the three minutes since Raible first called 911 for help, he had lost six million brain cells.
“Every single minute that you have interruption of the blood supply of the brain about two million cells in the brain dies,” said Dr. Ali Alaraj of University of Illinois Hospital & Health Sciences System. “If you act very fast and you treat that patient and restore the blood supply to the brain, you can take someone from being paralyzed to being active, functional and normal.”
In fact, Raible had provided 911 dispatchers three major signs of a stroke: he was dizzy, his face was numb and he had trouble speaking.
Because Raible could not reach the hotel phone due to his stroke symptoms, he used Siri on his smart phone to search for the hotel’s address. He then called 911 a second time and provided another dispatcher the address.
But the dispatcher did not seem to hear it. Nearly a minute later, a second person on the line relayed the address to the dispatcher.
According to the dispatch report, it took more than eight minutes from the time Raible first called 911 to the time an ambulance was sent. By then, Raible’s stroke had destroyed more than 16 million of his brain cells.
Paramedics eventually arrived and took Raible to Northwestern Memorial Hospital, where he was diagnosed with a major stroke in his brain stem.
“Eighty percent of my cerebellum is gone,” Raible said.
Raible is currently recovering at home in Pennsylvania and said he hopes to return to work soon. He is giving extra thanks to Siri for providing the address, the person on the 911 call who relayed the address to the dispatcher, the hotel doorman and the hospital staff.
“There were a number of people that helped – probably saved my life that night,” Raible said.
Still, he said he hopes Chicago’s 911 system makes changes to better serve callers who are unable to provide an address.
“I don’t want anyone else to go through the same situation,” Raible said.
Melissa Stratton, spokesperson for Chicago’s Office of Emergency Management and Communications, said 911 call takers are trained to encourage callers to find some reference of their location, if not known. She said calling from a landline provides an exact location to 911 call takers.
“The CAD (Computer Aided Dispatch) system used to dispatch calls is a closed system to maintain the security of the platform. As such, researching a location for the caller via the Internet is not an option in the system,” Stratton said. “However, every attempt is made to locate the incident/location of the caller in order to provide emergency response as quickly as possible.”
According to Stratton, OEMC is pursuing new technology to assist in providing more accurate location information of callers, and expects to implement the technology in the near future.
Brian Dale, associate director of medical and quality control at International Academies of Emergency Dispatch, said there are many 911 call centers in the US that do not give call takers access to the Internet due to privacy reasons. Although, he said some call centers provide limited access to the Internet.
“Call takers sometimes get frustrated because they want to help. I’m assuming they were following their process,” Dale said. “You try to learn from what happened and try to do better next time. But without the technology, the dispatcher is handcuffed.”