The closure of an emergency room in rural Mississippi may have been the difference between a pregnant woman living and dying.
Shyteria Shardae “Shy” Shoemaker, whose aunt told the Chickasaw Journal was 15 weeks pregnant and the mother of a 2-year-old girl, had asthma. The 23-year-old slept with a mask hooked up to a breathing machine each night and relied on pills and inhalers to control her symptoms.
She suffered an asthma attack in the early hours of the morning on Jan. 27, Jackson, Miss., newspaper the Clarion-Ledger reported Tuesday, March 12. Shoemaker called out for help in her home in Chickasaw County and ultimately collapsed in the doorway.
“She called her cousin’s name three times, and I jumped up,” said Melinda Johnson, the girlfriend of Shoemaker’s cousin LeKearis Shoemaker, told the Clarion-Ledger.
With Shy gasping for air, her family decided to drive her to the emergency room at Trace Regional Hospital in Houston, Mississippi. Her cousins, LeKearis Shoemaker, LeParishe Shoemaker and another male cousin got in the car and began heading to the hospital. As they did, LeParishe tried to keep Shy awake but she kept passing out.
It was around 1:20 a.m. when LeKearis Shoemaker dialed 911 to let dispatchers know they were heading to Trace Regional’s emergency room. But the dispatcher told them there was no ER. Formerly eight minutes away, it closed down in 2014.
“I was like, ‘What the f— do you mean there’s no ER?’” LeKearis said. “Every other place has an ER.”
Instead, LeKearis said the family was told to head to the Houston Fire Department, where 911 documents show they arrived at 1:26 a.m. Houston Fire Chief Jonathan Blankenship told the paper that two firemen were waiting outside the station to help Shy, but her family felt they were not moving with enough urgency. They decided to head a block away to the downtown square and attempted to get help from a police officer.
Rather than helping, however, the cousins said they were told to get on the ground in 32 degree weather.
“He looked like he was shocked … like he was scared, like we were gonna rob him,” LeParishe said of the officer’s face when the Black men asked for assistance. He also said the cop put his hand on his Taser as they got on the ground.
The cousins said Shy was unconscious in the car. Firefighters soon showed up to attempt to save their cousin.
Meanwhile, an ambulance still had not shown up. Two ambulances operate in the county but one was not in service after the driver got off duty at midnight to tend to a family emergency. The only other one operating was on the other side of the county. It finally arrived 26 minutes after the initial 911 call was made and it drove Shy about 20 miles to Baptist Memorial Hospital in neighboring Calhoun County.
The local Coroner Jerry Fleming said the hospital continued CPR for a few minutes, “but they could just never get her to come back.” He said Shy was pronounced dead at 2:35 a.m. An official cause of death is pending an autopsy report, Fleming said.
Shy’s family believes that if the ambulance hadn’t arrived so late and if the ER remained open, she’d still be alive.
“That’s a life they could have saved,” said Shy’s mother Makesha Shoemaker, who also wonders if race played a role in how things unfolded that night.
Houston Police Chief Billy Voyles did not offer any comment on the matter and referred questions from the Clarion-Ledger to Blankenship, since he was present that night.
Not wanting to speak on behalf of the police department, Blankenship acknowledged police kept the cousins away from the scene and attempted to keep them calm to allow the firefighters to revive their cousin.
Shy’s mother said she was told firefighters did not give her daughter oxygen, but Blankenship assured the paper that all proper protocols were followed that night and that they did give Shy oxygen.
Shy’s funeral was held Feb. 9 and her daughter, A’Dore, continues to call out for her mother.
“Every now and then she’ll be hollering. She wants her mama,” Makesha Shoemaker told the Clarion-Ledger in March. “I’ll tell her, ‘She’s gone, but she’ll be back.’”
Makesha Shoemaker doesn’t know when she’ll break the news to her granddaughter that her mother has died.
When the Trace Regional Hospital emergency room closed in summer 2014, administrators said it lost more than $2 million in one year after people who got treatment there didn’t pay, the Chickasaw Journal reported.
In fall 2018, several community members wrote letters to the Journal looking to find a way to re-open the emergency room or establish an after-hours clinic. However, nothing has come of the letters.