They thought she was dead. Then she woke up at a funeral home.

Allyson Waller and Derrick Bryson Taylor, The New York Times

Posted at Aug 26 2020 11:16 PM

A Michigan woman who was declared dead by paramedics Sunday was discovered alive hours later by a funeral home worker who was preparing to embalm her body, a lawyer for her family said.

The lawyer, Geoffrey Fieger, said the woman, Timesha Beauchamp, was born with cerebral palsy. “She requires constant care since birth,” he said Tuesday. “I believe her relative fragile condition contributed to the false belief by the authorities” that she had died.

For Beauchamp’s family, it has been an agonizing couple of days. First they were told she had died, only to learn later that she was somehow still alive. 

On Tuesday, she was fighting for her life in a Detroit hospital. The ordeal prompted them to hire a lawyer to try to get to the bottom of how such a thing could have happened.

Around 7:30 a.m. Sunday, paramedics responded to a call of an unresponsive woman at a home in Southfield, Michigan, northwest of Detroit, Chief Johnny L. Menifee of the Southfield Fire Department said in a statement. Fieger said at a news conference Tuesday that Beauchamp’s family had made the emergency call.

When the paramedics arrived, they found a 20-year-old woman, later identified as Beauchamp, who was not breathing. 

“The paramedics performed CPR and other life-reviving methods for 30 minutes,” Menifee said. “Given medical readings and the condition of the patient, it was determined at that time that she did not have signs of life.”

In an interview with WDIV-TV, Beauchamp’s mother, Erica Lattimore, said the emergency responders had then told her that her daughter had died. “They said, ‘Ma’am, she’s gone,’” Lattimore said. “I told them, ‘Are you absolutely 100 percent sure that she’s gone?’ They said, ‘Yes, ma’am, she’s gone.’ ”

Lattimore could not be reached Tuesday.

Later Sunday morning, after spending more than 2 hours in a body bag, Beauchamp arrived at the James H. Cole Home for Funerals, where an employee discovered that she was alive, breathing with her eyes open, Fieger said. The funeral home, he said, then called Lattimore and sent Beauchamp to the hospital.

“This devastated my life,” Lattimore told WDIV.

On Monday, the Southfield Fire Department issued a second statement saying an emergency department physician had pronounced Beauchamp dead based on medical information that emergency responders provided by phone from the scene.

“The Southfield Fire and Police Departments followed all appropriate city, county and state protocols and procedures in this case,” the department said, adding that the city was investigating the matter. 

The Oakland County Medical Control Authority is also investigating, the Fire Department said, and will report its findings to the Michigan Bureau of EMS, Trauma and Preparedness.

Fieger said Beauchamp’s godmother, a registered nurse, had been present when emergency medical workers arrived Sunday morning and told them that she believed Beauchamp still had a pulse and was breathing.

Beauchamp was never taken to the medical examiner’s office after she was pronounced dead, as is routine when emergency medical workers have conferred with a doctor and the medical examiner’s office to determine that someone has died from natural causes, said Bill Mullan, spokesman for Oakland County, Michigan.

“When it’s a circumstance where it’s a medical run, there’s no immediate evidence of foul play that can be found by the first responders, generally a lot of this is done by phone from a medical examiner’s perspective,” Mullan said.

When Lattimore spoke to WDIV on Monday, she was still in disbelief. “Somebody pronounced my child dead, and she’s not even dead,” she said.

Brian Taylor, a spokesman for Detroit Medical Center, said Tuesday that Beauchamp was in critical condition.

Jocelyn K. Coley, a spokeswoman for the James H. Cole Home for Funerals, confirmed that the funeral home had received clearance from the Oakland County medical examiner’s office to pick up Beauchamp’s body Sunday.

“Upon her arrival at the funeral home, our staff confirmed she was breathing and called EMS,” Coley said. “Our thoughts and prayers are with this young woman and her family.”

Coley said the funeral home could not offer additional details because the matter was the subject of an investigation.

It’s not unheard of for people to be declared dead only to be found alive hours later. 

In 2018, a South African woman was pronounced dead at the scene of a car wreck but hours later was found breathing in a mortuary. And in 2014, a Mississippi man who had been pronounced dead was found alive inside a body bag at a funeral home.