The Unexpected Death of a Child and The Experience of Emergency Service Personnel

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In 2013, 55,000 infants and children, aged 0 to 14, died in the United States. Nearly 7,000 of those deaths were attributed to traumatic causes. A child's death significantly affects emergency service personnel (ESP) caring for children and families. This study explores the lived experience of ESP involved in unsuccessful pediatric resuscitation efforts and how this experience affects them professionally and personally.


A phenomenologic approach guided this study. Using an open-ended format, an interview was conducted with a purposive sample of ESP who experienced unexpected pediatric death. Eight ESP participated in semistructured, face-to-face interviews, ranging in length from 35 to 75 minutes. The research question asked: “What is it like for you when a child dies after an unsuccessful resuscitation attempt?” Data were analyzed using thematic analysis.


Van Manen's 4 existentials guided this study, and 10 subthemes emerged that included: “what if,” “dying before my eyes,” “team,” “what if it was were my child?/being a parent,” “the environment,” “being trapped,” “wounded healer,” “education,” “anger,” and “coping.”


This study explores the experience of ESP involved in unsuccessful pediatric resuscitation that resulted in unexpected pediatric death and ESP's perceptions of this experience: thoughts of loss, a sense of anger, and a lack of preparation to cope with unexpected pediatric death and the unknowns of life.

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