What happens when a medical mistake claims the life of your child? For Leilani Schweitzer, it triggered a career in hospital risk management – but not before it changed her life in ways only the death of a child could.
In an in-depth essay on EverydayHealth.com, Schweitzer explains how her 10-month-old son, Gabriel, was admitted to the hospital on a Thursday. By the following Tuesday, he was dead after a nurse had made a fatal error.
However, Schweitzer commended the hospital’s handling of her family’s tragedy. In fact, she calls herself “one of the lucky ones.”
Misdiagnoses Preceded Deadly Error
Gabriel was transferred to a specialist hospital after being repeatedly misdiagnosed at his hometown hospital, according to the article. When her son was moved to the specialist hospital, Schweitzer says, she felt that he would be safer and would eventually come home healthier and happier.
However, when a nurse thought she would help Schweitzer to relax and get some sleep after the days and nights of worry, it turned out to be a tragic mistake.
According to Schweitzer, the nurse sought to quiet the alarms and monitors in Gabriel’s hospital room. In doing so, she shut off all alarms, including the ones at the nurses’ station and the one hooked to her pager
Gabriel stopped breathing. His heart stopped. And no alarm sounded. He laid there for several minutes as his mother slept in the chair next to him. By the time the nurse came back into his room to check on him, it was too late.
‘One of the Lucky Ones?’
Throughout her essay, Schweitzer says she is “one of the lucky ones.” Of course, the death of her son does not make her lucky. However, she says, the way in which the hospital handled the tragedy helped her in many respects.
Hospital administrators and medical staff had the courage to face her and take responsibility for Gabriel’s death, she says. While many medical institutions may try to hide or deny fault or simply put up a wall, Schweitzer says this hospital helped her through the process. The hospital admitted it had done wrong and tried to figure out what it could change moving forward.
Schweitzer wanted what any patient or loved one wants when a horrific mistake is made: transparency, honesty, an apology and an attempt to make things better. She believes she got it.
The company responsible for the monitoring devices that Gabriel was hooked up to said it did not think a nurse would ever go through all seven steps in order to shut off all alarms, so the company had never built in a safeguard against it. After Gabriel’s death, the company sent notices to hospitals that use the machines to let them know of the potential for tragedy.
The hospital did not simply fire the nurse and wash its hands of the incident. The hospital investigated what went wrong and took responsibility for the entire event, Schweitzer says.
When a tragic medical error like this happens, transparency is the least a hospital can offer. Being honest seems like a no-brainer, but many families are left feeling isolated and cut off from the medical institution responsible for the mistake. Too many families never get the answers and comfort they seek.
In this sense, it is encouraging to learn of Schweitzer’s story and to see that at least one hospital took positive steps in the aftermath of a serious error.