Derby wife was told husband had died over FaceTime because paramedics didn't know sign language

The mum wants all emergency workers to have sign language training and a fully charged iPad so that they can connect to a qualified interpreter instantly Credit: BPM Media

A Chellaston mum who was told her husband died over FaceTime has called for ambulance crews to learn basic sign language.

Elizabeth Corbett, who is deaf, was at work at the Royal School for the Deaf when she received a distressed video call from her children, ages nine and 11, to say that her husband wouldn't wake up.

When she got home the air ambulance had arrived and paramedics were trying to revive David, 51, refusing to let Elizabeth in the house, as well as being unable to explain what was happening.

The mum made a video call to the school in Ashbourne Road where the receptionist spoke to paramedics before she relayed in British Sign Language (BSL) that David had sadly passed away.Now Elizabeth wants all emergency workers to have sign language training and a fully charged iPad so that they can connect to a qualified interpreter instantly.

A post-mortem examination revealed that David had a blood clot which caused a fatal heart attack. Credit: BMP Media

Elizabeth, 43, said: “David had been mowing the grass and had sat down for a cool drink with the children when he suddenly stopped talking."At first the kids thought he was joking – because he was a big joker – but then they started to panic when they couldn’t wake him up. They contacted me and I told them to ring for an ambulance, while a colleague drove me home."The children were amazing, they performed CPR until the paramedics arrived. But when I got there the kids were standing on the lawn crying and the emergency services wouldn’t let me in the house.“Not one of them could communicate with me and I couldn’t explain who I was. I wanted to know what was happening and the police were asking me questions, but they were all wearing facemasks so I couldn’t tell what they were saying.“Eventually I contacted work and the receptionist spoke to the paramedics who told her that David had died. So I found out over FaceTime that he had gone.“Once the paramedics knew I was deaf they did remove their masks but for a deaf person in such a stressful situation it was very difficult to lipread, despite their efforts.” Both Elizabeth and David were born without hearing. but their two children 11-year-old Jacob, who has autism, and nine-year-old Amelia can both hear.A post-mortem examination revealed that David had a blood clot which caused a fatal heart attack. He died on June 15 last year, just four days before Father’s Day and five days before Elizabeth’s birthday.He had worked in the paint shop at Toyota for almost 30 years and had been the company’s first deaf employee. Elizabeth is now raising money in David’s memory.

Elizabeth is now raising money in David’s memory. Credit: BMP Media

She hopes to raise £60,000 for the Royal School for the Deaf, which David had attended himself, to buy a specially-adapted minibus for trips and outings.

Elizabeth added: “As I was organising the funeral people kept asking me questions about flowers and donations and it was a lot to deal with at the time – it had all been such a shock."I sat down to watch the weekly BSL round-up from school and they said that sadly the minibus was being scrapped. It felt like a sign from David that we should try to replace it."He had loved his years at the school and especially school trips – he’d been to Denmark and done his Duke of Edinburgh – and he had made good friends there and had good memories. So that’s what we’re trying to do and it’s definitely helping us to deal with the hole in our lives and giving us a purpose."I’m so proud of the children, they coped really well that day and it was brilliant teamwork, but I’m also so sad for them. The deaf community, and all my colleagues at the school, have been wonderfully supportive. And I’d really like to be able to give them this back, in memory of David.”Craig Whyles, divisional director for Derbyshire at East Midlands Ambulance Service said: “We would like to offer our sincere condolences to the patient’s family and I am deeply sorry for the poor experience they had with our service. We would like to speak to the patient’s family about their experience and urge them to get in touch with us at their earliest convenience.“As an organisation, we are currently working with the Nottinghamshire Deaf Society to discuss how we can improve our education to staff around deaf awareness and common emergency communication problems.

"This includes the involvement of deaf community groups in our educational training and assessments, developing awareness programmes of the deaf and deafened community and looking into the possibility of virtual interpreter apps which EMAS staff can use to connect them with an interpreter to have a conversation with a deaf patient or family user.”To make a donation to Elizabeth's fundraiser, please visit: Crowdfunding to purchase a replacement minibus for the Royal School for the Deaf, Derby on JustGiving.