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New York University doctors miss signs of fatal illness, part I

Two New York parents will never be the same after what seemed like normal bout with the flu turned into losing battle for their son's life. Sadly, their 12-year-old son died from a medical condition that, if it had been caught in time, most likely would not have taken his life. The trouble is, the physicians at New York University Langone Medical Center didn't notice it until it was far too late.

The failure to diagnose a serious medical condition can come with some horrific consequences, including, as in this case, death. When physicians ignore or write off symptoms that give a good indication as to what's happening, they can sometimes be held liable for medical malpractice. Or, as in this story, if doctors fail to communicate with one another, they may potentially be sued for medical errors.

What ultimately killed this young patient was sepsis, his body's response to a blood infection caused by a cut on his arm. Like any other 12-year-old boy, he had gotten a small cut while skidding for a ball in gym class, but that cut must have introduced the bacteria Group A streptococcus into his blood stream. Though this bacterium is the same bacterium that causes strep throat, when it gets into the blood or into a soft tissue, it has the potential to kill.

The next morning, he woke up with a fever, a sick stomach and leg pain and his parents took him to their family's pediatrician. Though the boy's mother pointed out the cut, mentioned the leg pain and told the doctor that the boy's skin was splotchy when depressed, the doctor wrote it off as the flu and sent him to New York University for rehydration. While she apparently wrote up in her notes all of these symptoms of a serious bacterial infection, it appears that the emergency room physicians never consulted the notes.

Later in the week, we will talk about how New York University Langone Medical Center's failure to diagnose the 12-year-old's sepsis caused his death.

Source: The New York Times, "An Infection, Unnoticed, Turns Unstoppable," Jim Dwyer, July 11, 2012

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