Two years ago Monday, Amanda Abbiehl’s parents tucked the 18-year-old into her hospital bed and kissed her goodbye as she insisted she was feeling better. Doctors were treating her for dehydration and severe pain in her mouth and throat caused by a nasty case of strep throat.
But that was the last time they’d see her alive. Amanda was found unresponsive in her hospital bed the next morning.
July 17 marks the two year anniversary of her death and her parents and Brian and Cindy Abbiehl are now making it their mission to raise awareness about self-controlled pain pumps, a device they believe killed their daughter.
Reminders of their bouncy, spitfire daughter are everywhere in the Abbiehl’s home.
“Her and I were very close. She was my whole world,” said Cindy as she choked back tears.
Doctors put Amanda on a self-controlled pain pump that administered Dialudid, a medication that relieves pain but also depresses the respiratory system on July 16, 2010. Brian and Cindy say their daughter died because she was not connected to a machine that monitored her oxygen and carbon monoxide levels.
“I guess our thought was that she had been monitored, possibly this could have alerted one of the caregivers and they could have been able to come in and check on her at least,” Brian told WSBT.
The Abbiehls recently launched a website for the foundation they created in their daughter’s memory, called “A Promise to Amanda.”
“We know she would be leading the way if this had happened to somebody else,” Cindy said. “That's what I promised her, that I'd figure it out, we would figure out what happened to her because she was, for the 99 percent of her life, a very healthy, strong, vibrant girl. So it didn't make any sense that she would die at that young of an age.”
The goal of the foundation is to make other people aware of pain pump dangers and push hospitals to monitor them.
"A Big Light"
“I didn’t know how common of an occurrence this is and I really didn't know anything about the monitoring devices until I read the Amanda Abbeihl story and I kind of became angry all over again,” said former Michigan State Police Trooper Matt Whitman, who claims he nearly died after overdosing on a pain pump in 2003.
Whitman was on patrol Memorial Day weekend in 1990 when a drunk driver hit him. He appeared to make a full recovery, but 12 years later he noticed extending his arms sent a shock-like feeling to his feet.
A neurosurgeon fused five vertebrate together in Whitman’s neck and he says he used an unmonitored pain pump in recovery.
“All of a sudden there was a big light. It was like in the movies. Everything was quiet and peaceful and it was like a stream was flowing and wherever I was, [it] was a really nice place to be,” he added.
Even though he was not on a machine that alerted hospital staff that he’d stopped breathing, a nurse happened to find Whitman and doctors revived him.
He hopes to meet Amanda’s parents someday soon but until then, the Abbiehls are trying to find a way to keep everyone else from feeling they describe as their “new norm.”
“It’s difficult. But if we can save one person, then you know, we’ve done what we needed to do,” Cindy said.
The Physician-Patient Alliance for Health and Safety says between 2005 and 2009, more than 700 deaths and more than 56,000 adverse events were linked to pain pumps in reports to the FDA.