Cardiac aid gets handyman fired Sharing his medicine with tenant can't be condoned, boss says


Ted Robinson is looking for a job and a place to live -- all because of an act that may have saved a life.

The 57-year-old maintenance worker's problems began last month when he was working at an Essex apartment complex. He was dispatched by his supervisor to an apartment where a tenant said she was having a heart attack.

With an ambulance on its way, Robinson, who had a heart attack last year, gave one of his nitroglycerin tablets to the woman.

Rochelle Wilkins says her doctors told her she probably wouldn't have survived her heart attack without the dose of nitro.

Still, Robinson was fired.

Wilkins, 50, has a history of heart problems and normally keeps a supply of nitroglycerin.

But on Nov. 19, when she started feeling intense chest pains, she had none.

She knew Robinson, and knew that he'd have some.

"I begged him to give me one of his tablets," she said.

After he had obliged, she was taken by ambulance to Franklin Square Hospital Center.

"The doctor told my mom I probably wouldn't have made it [without the nitroglycerin]," she said. "You'd rather for this man to see me die from a heart attack than help me?"

"Was I supposed to let the woman die?" Robinson asked.

He said his bosses don't grasp the terror of a heart attack.

"If they had been through what I've been through and seen what I've seen," he said, "they'd change their tune."

Employer's stance

Management at the Kingsley Park Apartments said the issue is simple: Robinson put his job on the line when he chose to share prescription medicine with a tenant.

What's more, apartment management said, Robinson remains a potential risk because he is unwilling to admit that he erred.

"You have to step back for a second and realize how outrageous it was for him to dispense medication," said Eric Richelson, president of Wilder Richman Management Corp., which manages Kingsley Park Apartments and other complexes throughout the country.

"He's not a health care professional. He's totally incapable of assuming that responsibility," said Richelson. "It could have been heartburn for all he knew."

Residents upset over firing

Some residents at the 312-unit apartment complex are angry that their maintenance man has been fired. They know him as a helpful man who sometimes would distribute leftover soup or chili in the complex, which provides government-subsidized housing to low- and moderate-income families.

More than 30 residents signed a petition opposing his termination.

"I think he got a raw deal," said Leo Mackowiak, a resident for four years. "They could have just reprimanded him."

Richelson said he's shocked that so many are so upset that Robinson has been fired. He said the handyman may have broken the law by dispensing medicine.

"It's easy to have that viewpoint because nothing horrible happened," he said. "But I can't have 400 employees running around thinking they're Wyatt Earp, dispensing justice or medication. I'm sorry if people think I'm mean for firing him. He'll find another job. I'm just not willing to have him work for me."

Robinson, a wiry man with a drawl that hints of his West Virginia roots, is working odd jobs. He said he's had a hard time finding full-time work, and he said he's been given until Dec. 31 to vacate his apartment, where he, his wife and his 27-year-old, mentally retarded stepson have lived rent-free under the terms of his maintenance job.

His wife, Laverne, also knows about heart attacks, having suffered two. Both know the power of the little white pills that he carries in a brown glass vial.

Medical professionals working to save heart attack victims sometimes use nitroglycerin because it relaxes blood vessels, reducing stress on the heart, said Ronald S. Freudenberger, a cardiologist at the University of Maryland Medical Center.

Dangers of nitroglycerin

Freudenberger said the decision to administer nitroglycerin is best left to doctors or paramedics because the drug can lower blood pressure too much -- leading to shock or death. Health care professionals can have a hard time telling whether chest pains signal a heart attack or simply a bad case of heartburn, he said.

Freudenberger added that sharing nitroglycerin tablets is not a good idea because pills that are identical in appearance may contain different levels of the drug. In addition, he said, sharing medicine can be dangerous because it may interact with other drugs.

Robinson said he has no regrets about giving his medicine to Wilkins.

"I would still do it, even though it cost me my job," he said. "I'm not going to see anybody die."

Pub Date: 12/26/98

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