I know we’ve covered preventable deaths quite a bit lately, but the
issue just doesn’t go away, and in this climate where the health
care debate seems to be the most common topic of conversation, don’t
you find it timely? I urge you again to read the
Dead by Mistake series by Hearst Newspapers, which is what I was reading when I came across
this story about another preventable death, this time at renowned Massachusetts General
Hospital in Boston.
The death took place in 2003 and involved Trevor Nelson, a healthy young
(34) man who was a producer for the CBS news show “60 Minutes.”
Nelson visited the hospital and was diagnosed with viral meningitis, which
generally clears up in 7 to 10 days if left untreated. Within 24 hours,
however, Nelson was dead, possibly from an overdose of prescription narcotics.
To make matters worse, Nelson’s family claims the hospital tried
to cover up its deadly mistake.
Nelson’s hospital records indicate he was given quite a cocktail
of drugs, including Vicodin, morphine, Dilaudid, Tylenol 3 (which contains
codeine), Ativan, and Fioricet, over a 15-hour span. At the end of that
time period, Nelson had no pulse and was not breathing. The family took
him off life support later the same day.
Massachusetts hospitals are required by law to report any of the 28 “never
events” to the Department of Public Health. In addition, law indicates
that if a patient dies within 24 hours of admission to a hospital OR if
an otherwise healthy patient suddenly dies, an independent state medical
examiner must be called to investigate the cause of death. In Nelson’s
case, no inquiry was filed by the hospital, and the hospital itself conducted
the autopsy. The autopsy indicated that Nelson did not have inflammation
of the brain, but in contradiction the death certificate issued by the
hospital noted that viral meningitis was the cause of death.
Nelson’s stepfather, a physician, said he requested an independent
autopsy but that the hospital claimed the request was denied because the
patient had been hospitalized for longer than 24 hours. Hospital records
indicated, however, that Nelson was in the hospital just under 24 hours:
he was admitted at 9:56 pm and died the following night at 9:50 pm.
Nelson’s family has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the hospital.