A 12-year-old New York boy named Rory lost his life recently after a series of communication failures between his medical providers. Many doctors and nurses say these lapses occur with alarming frequency in New York hospitals, but Rory’s death has sparked a widespread effort to change that.
More than just a stomach bug
Rory’s illness began with a cut on his arm, which he suffered while playing basketball in his school gym, the New York Times reported. That night, he began vomiting and soon developed a high fever and severe leg pain. When he saw his pediatrician the following day, the doctor sent Rory to the emergency room to replenish his fluids intravenously. There, the doctors administered an IV and sent the boy home with an anti-nausea drug, believing that a stomach bug and dehydration were the cause of his illness.
In truth, however, Rory was not suffering from a routine stomach upset but instead was suffering from a blood infection caused by bacteria that doctors now believe entered his bloodstream through the cut on his arm. In response to the bacterial invasion, Rory’s immune system was going out of control in a domino effect of destructive immune responses known collectively as sepsis.
If detected in time, sepsis can often be treated successfully with antibiotics, and with other measures such as dialysis and ventilation as necessary. Tragically, in Rory’s case, doctors did not connect the dots of his diagnosis until it was too late. Although Rory exhibited several symptoms that may have pointed to sepsis if taken together – blotchy skin, rapid pulse, irregular blood count – each was detected separately by a different doctor, and a series of communication failures reportedly allowed his condition to progress without detection until it was irreversible. Rory died of septic shock on April 1, 2012, three days after his initial visit to the pediatrician.
Parents strive to improve care for other children
In the months after their son’s death, Rory’s parents publicized the boy’s medical records along with a detailed timeline of his treatment in an effort to prevent similar medical errors from occurring in the future. They have also called for a new law that would require hospitals to inform parents of tests that have been run on their children, and to discuss the results with them and inform parents if any test results are still outstanding. Rory’s parents say doctors should also inform children’s parents of any alternative explanations that were ruled out when arriving at a diagnosis, and should warn parents of symptoms to watch out for after a child returns home.
Members of New York’s medical and legal communities have responded by taking a closer look at the circumstances that led to Rory’s death and exploring policies and procedures that could have helped to prevent it. Several hospitals in the New York area are trying out new procedures that from simple checklists to high-tech, robotic training programs. In addition, three New York emergency rooms have implemented new policies requiring parents to be briefed on their children’s test results. If successful, these policies could serve as a model for “Rory’s Law,” the New York Times reported.
Legal help for victims of medical errors
Parents of children who have been harmed by medical errors are advised to discuss the situation with an attorney. An experienced medical malpractice attorney can help parents understand their legal options for holding the responsible parties accountable, and can advocate on their behalf if they choose to pursue compensation for the harm that has been done.