Woman warns about medical alert devices after incident

Special Reports

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Many older people rely on medical alert devices to make the call to 911 during emergencies.

But for 84-year-old Marilyn Knopka, that call was never made, and she doesn’t want that to happen to anyone else. 

Knopka tried for hours to get the medical alert company to make a call as she suffered.

“I just didn’t understand why they didn’t call anybody,” she told KOIN 6 News.

Knopka had gotten up in the middle of the night and collapsed. She pressed the button on the medical alert device around her neck, but nothing happened.

The battery was dead. Then she remembered another wireless device she used to lock her front door was on her nightstand. It is from the same company and it also had an alarm to notify them of an emergency. 

She pushed the button and it went off — “Beep! Beep! Beep! Just as loud as you can image, it went about an hour or 2 hours, but I turned it off because I couldn’t stand it any longer.”

When no one came to help her, Marilyn pressed the alarm again. Still, no response.

Knopka’s daughter Dawn’s phone shows the medical alert company tried calling her four times, beginning at 2:56 a.m. It wasn’t until 7:03 a.m. that Dawn heard the ring.

Knopka had been there for five hours and when Dawn found her wedged next to her bed, she couldn’t move. 

At the hospital, she learned she’d had a stroke.

“If I broke my hip or had a real heavy stroke or heart attack I’d be dead,” she said.

Knopka and her family wanted answers from the medical alert company, which told them the protocol for the door alarm is for the company to call family members.

“Come on! But they’re saying that button is a non-emergency thing, ‘we don’t consider that because it’s always pushed by accident’ — really?” Dawn said.

KOIN 6 News reached out to the company in Utah about their different alarms. KOIN received an email saying a manager would be in contact, but the company has not followed through. KOIN is not naming the company because Knopka can’t find her contract, so it is unclear what it says about when the company should call 911.

“You can’t do that to old people,” she said. “Get 911 if you can’t get ahold of relatives, you know.”

Knopka switched companies after the incident. Now she wants others to learn from her experience: make sure your battery is charged and you know your entire system — what it will and won’t do in an emergency.

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