A Tragic Loss
They say losing a child is one of the most challenging experiences a person can go through. Regina Mullen lost her son, Kyle, on February 4th after he had completed Hell Week as part of his training to become a Navy SEAL. Several weeks after his death, she was sorting through her mail and found a truly disturbing surprise; a bill for $3,170 for emergency services for her dead son. Understandably shaken, she called the Navy. It was an error, of course, one of many that had occurred in Mullen’s case. She also received an urn from the Navy with her son’s name misspelled.
Last Saturday, Regina Mullen, herself a Registered Nurse, received an Armed Forces Medical Examiner autopsy report, the findings she shared with the press. In short, it states that her son died from pneumonia during training at Naval Amphibious Base Coronado, near San Diego.
Quoting a description of events accompanying the report:
“(Kyle) had completed Hell Week and was being looked after by non-medical personnel to help him tend to his basic needs. He was in a wheelchair most of the time, unable to stand and walk on his own. He had reportedly been coughing/spitting up red-tinged fluid which had nearly filled a 36 oz. sports drink bottle.”
As part of the autopsy report, US Army regional Medical Examiner Dr. Wendy Warren wrote that Mullen died of acute pneumonia due to Streptococcus pyogenes. He was unfortunate, as this particular bacteria rarely cause pneumonia, especially in otherwise healthy adults.
In an interview with the Post, Mullen’s mother recounted a timeline of events leading up to Kyle’s death. She said, “Friday morning, after completing Hell Week, he was laid flat on his back on the floor of the barracks, upon a mattress, with his legs up. That was protocol,” and was what all SEAL candidates were made to do. She continued, “A 19-year-old boy with no medical background looked after him. Kyle turned blue and spit up blood all over the barracks.” She recounts that the young man’s parents told her this.
She went on to say, “Paramedics [via 911 had been] called for another boy, whose lips were blue. They arrived and came into the barracks to look at Kyle. My son died in the arms of the 19-year-old, who now feels terrible and blames himself for what happened; he shouldn’t, since it was not his fault. Paramedics worked on Kyle for 30 minutes and were unable to revive him. He was pronounced dead in a community hospital 30 minutes away.”
According to Regina, Navy Hospital Corpsmen, who were usually in a room nearby, had taken off by noon. “Somebody was supposed to be on call,” she said, “but they were not answering the phone.”
The grieving mother is pushing for reform in how medical evaluations are carried out during BUD/S, especially during and after Hell Week. She wants those she says are responsible for ensuring her son received medical care to be held accountable.
Naval Special Command has stated the death of Mullens, “Multiple independent investigations are ongoing into the circumstances surrounding Seaman Kyle Mullen’s death. Until the investigations are complete, it is inappropriate to speculate on the cause of death or contributing factors.”
Still, statements like that will never lessen a grieving mother’s pain.
One of the factors in his death could be the tendency of those going through SEAL training to underreport or even hide injuries and illness in the effort to push through the training program. Because the BUD/S training schedule is so tight, missing just a few days of it can get you rolled back to another class that will require you to repeat some very unpleasant experiences, including Hell-Week.