On oxygen, spitting blood: NJ mom says Navy SEAL candidate son should still be alive
MANALAPAN — The mother of fallen Navy SEAL candidate Kyle Mullen has been left to grasp for answers more than two months after her son’s sudden death during training.
The 24-year-old Manalapan native died in early February, just hours after completing the grueling five-day test dubbed “Hell Week” at the U.S. Naval base in San Diego.
Regina Mullen, a registered nurse, said she has since found out that her son was on oxygen and spitting blood by the time he finished the first phase of assessment and selection for the elite Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUD/S) class.
Eleven weeks later, however, the medical examiner's report from the Navy still has not been completed.
Adding to frustrations, the circumstances surrounding Kyle Mullen’s death are only being investigated internally through the Naval Criminal Investigative Service.
U.S. Rep. Andy Kim, D-N.J 3rd District, has advocated for a separate investigation of Kyle Mullen’s death, writing on April 14 to the Department of Defense Acting Inspector General Sean O’Donnell.
O ’Donnell has declined to open a separate investigation before NCIS completes its own review, Mullen said.
On Monday, Regina said she called the Naval medical examiner’s office and was told that additional tests were being conducted for steroids.
She said when she disputed that as a potential cause of death and asked for answers, the official hung up on her.
No medical monitoring
If Kyle Mullen had been medically monitored and intubated as necessary following the test, “My son would be alive today,” Regina Mullen said.
The other young man who was in critical condition at the same time that her son died “had severe pneumonia and was intubated for 24 hours — my son had the same condition,” she said.
“I heard it over the phone when he called me that day, I was concerned. I’m thinking he’s being monitored and taken care of — nope, he wasn’t. He died approximately four hours later,” Regina Mullen said to New Jersey 101.5.
“He got through all that aggressive training — no sleep, freezing cold. The least they could have done is really checked him and all those boys, those men — young men — that got through should have been under medical observation for at least 24 hours. They just merely asked him, are you okay,” she continued.
Instead of a hospital bed, Kyle Mullen was in a mattress on the ground of a military barracks when first responders were called the day of his death, Regina Mullen said, first to the Asbury Park Press and also to New Jersey 101.5.
He died in the arms of a 19-year-old fellow sailor — not a medic — but was pronounced dead at an area hospital, she said.
Based on her professional training and conversations she has had with Mullen’s fellow SEAL candidates, Regina Mullen is confident that her son had developed swimming-induced pulmonary edema, or SIPE, which is fluid buildup in the lungs.
In an ABC News interview last month, Mullen said her son had already been treated for SIPE during training in January and was treated with oxygen twice during his final five-day rigorous test — including on the day he died.
“They’re saying they did a pulse-ox, but that would be impossible,” Regina Mullen said.
Pulse oximetry is a test used to measure the oxygen level (oxygen saturation) of a person’s blood.
She said part of the problem is that it now appears to be discouraged to request a medical evaluation during the test.
'Grind it out' mentality
During “hell week” in this era, the only way to see a medic is by “ringing the bell” used to signify quitting, she continued — which none of these candidates wants to do, making it a national problem.
“The stories that I’m hearing from other moms — what they’re dealing with their young boys, luckily they’re alive but they’re not getting medical treatment like they should,” Regina Mullen said.
She has begun urging other congressional members to support efforts for accountability and reform in the Navy SEAL training process.
Kim is among three of New Jersey’s congressional delegates on the bipartisan House Armed Services Committee.
U.S. Reps. Mikie Sherill and Donald Norcross also are members.
“They shouldn’t have to wait for the NCIS investigation — they should start their own investigation,” Mullen said.
A request for comment from the Navy was not immediately answered on Monday.