Firefighter Paralyzed

A Phoenix firefighter lies paralyzed from the waist down following a bizarre Memorial Day incident at a local hospital in which he fell and hit his head after he was given a painkilling injection.

According to accounts by friends and fellow firefighters, Kenneth Gardiner, a 22-year-old ambulance driver, had gone to John C. Lincoln Hospital on the evening of May 29 after he suffered a whiplash injury while riding an all-terrain vehicle in Mexico.

Hospital officials and Gardiner's family declined to comment on the incident, but Gardiner's colleagues claim this is what happened:

A doctor at Lincoln reportedly took an X-ray that revealed no broken bones. Someone in the emergency room then injected Gardiner with a dose of Demerol and supposedly left him unattended for an unknown amount of time. Gardiner fainted during that time, according to accounts, and hit his head--probably on the edge of the bed next to his.

Gardiner was discovered on the floor of the emergency room, leading his colleagues to speculate that the fall resulted in a spinal cord injury that left the young firefighter paralyzed. It's not known whether his accident that weekend in Mexico is related to his paralysis. But Gardiner's colleagues say he walked into the hospital to seek treatment.

The prognosis for a complete recovery isn't good, according to an internal memo issued late last week by the Phoenix Fire Department. That memo said Gardiner had suffered an accident at the hospital and has "little chance of significant recovery" from his paralysis. The memo did not describe the accident.

Hospital spokesman Michael Wardrop declined comment on the incident, citing the "patient-physician privilege." "Without getting permission from the patient, I just can't release anything at this time," Wardrop says. "I'm sorry I can't be more helpful at this time."

Phoenix Fire Department captain Doug Tucker says Gardiner was hired in February 1987 and has been an ambulance driver for much of that time. He works out of Station 7 at Fifth Street and Hatcher, a few blocks from the hospital.

"Ken is one of those guys who does 6,000 sit-ups a day, a go-getter, a real fitness sort of person," says Tucker. "It's pretty strange. Ken probably has gone to the hospital a million times driving his fire ambulance, and then this happens to him while he's there."

A friend of the Gardiners says they won't comment until they retain an attorney. One of Gardiner's brothers, Bob, also is a firefighter, assigned to the department's hazardous-materials unit.

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Paul Rubin
Contact: Paul Rubin