Real People, Real Stories

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Mark Bennett of MD

Mark Bennett was a vibrant and independent 88 year-old World War II combat vet when he entered the hospital in February 2004 with a virus. Hospital personnel passed to him at least six different bacteria including fecal bacteria found in his sputum, multi-drug resistant strains throughout his body and a “flesh eating” bacteria that took his leg. His kidneys were destroyed, his trachea collapsed, his heart was damaged and his blood was poisoned. He went undiagnosed for days, was left untreated and received wrong medications. Despite daily visits to the hospital, his family was never informed of his conditions. After four months and having been moved through five different hospitals, Mark Bennett died.

Jeffrey Boas of Tucson, AZ

 

In 1999, Jeffrey went to the hospital for what was expected to be routine back surgery that would allow him to return to work as an investigator for the fire department in just a couple of weeks. But during surgery, he caught a staph infection in his spine and his life changed forever.

Jeffrey’s surgery appeared to go smoothly and he was soon discharged to continue his recovery at home. Before long, however, he was back in the hospital after a visiting nurse discovered the infection. The next day, he underwent surgery to clean out the infection and remove infected bone and tissue. He spent the next 6 months recovering at home undergoing IV antibiotic treatments to treat his stubborn infection.

Jeffrey’s back pain worsened considerably after his second surgery and he is now permanently disabled. He is on a number of medications to treat his chronic pain and has undergone several procedures to address it, but with no improvement. Jeffrey had to give up his job at the fire department because of his disability and used up all of his 401(k) funds to pay his bills. He now lives on his monthly Social Security disability check and struggles to afford the pain and other medications he needs.

Jeffrey’s condition continues to deteriorate. He is severely disabled and his doctors expect that his condition will continue to worsen. His case was reviewed by several attorneys but none would take it. They all said that the pre-surgical legal releases used by Jeff’s hospital were airtight and unbeatable. “I used to have a good job, made good money, and loved life, but now everything has changed,” Jeffrey says. His routine back surgery turned out to be anything but routine.

Alice Buehring of Gold Bar, WA

After taking a bad fall in January 1999, Alice Buehring required surgery to replace the humeral head in her right shoulder. Unfortunately, her recovery was painful and mostly unsuccessful. By May 1999, she discovered why. It turned out that Alice developed a Pseudomonas A infection in the surgical site, which was fast becoming septic. She spent the next week in the hospital on IV antibiotics to treat the infection. She was discharged to continue her IV treatments at home for another six weeks followed by oral antibiotics for another six weeks.

By the end of these treatments, Alice hoped that the worst was behind her. But her recovery continued to be painful and difficult. For the next six years, Alice struggled to find relief. She began to work with some natural and alternative health care practitioners who believed her arm was still infected. Most of the time her arm hurt enough to require pain medication and was periodically hot. She would slowly gain range of motion in her arm, only to lose it again. Each year she would return to her surgeon when the pain became unbearable. And each time he would insist that the infection was no longer present and send her home with more pain medication.

In May 2004, her pain became impossible to endure. She returned to her doctor who took another X-ray of her arm and finally determined that the infection was still present. By then, the infection had eaten through her humerus bone and destroyed her rotator cuff. Alice underwent a second surgery to remove the prosthesis, spent three days in the hospital recuperating and then continued her IV antibiotic treatments at home for another six weeks. Once the infection cleared up, she had a third surgery to insert a new prosthesis and then began physical therapy. Finally, she was infection free.

Alice’s hospital infection experience has had a lasting impact. She now has only a 20 percent range of motion in her dominant arm, which has limited her abilities in her daily life and at work and she still hasn’t gotten her energy back. She is grateful to be alive, that she still has an arm, and that the damage was not more extensive, but angry that an infection she caught in the hospital turned her life upside down for so long.

Jim Bullock of Bend, OR

Jim Bullock had surgery to repair and place internal hardware on his heel broken while doing roof repair on his house. The surgical site and hardware placed in his heel were infected with hospital-acquired infections that ended up almost costing him the foot. According to Jim, “I picked up 6 different infections (Super-bug Staph & Strep, E-Coli, yeast and a couple others)between the hospital and doctor office visits during the course of 5 surgeries.” His treatments to fight the infections included being placed on a VAC (Vacuum Assisted Closure) machine, 120 day IV treatment with a PICC line IV treatment. It took multiple surgeries to finally clear up the infection, and today he still walks with a limp.

Glenn Cartrette of Castle Hayne, NC

On January 1, 2003 Glenn Cartrette had knee surgery. After three weeks he went back to work and found he had a new pain in his hip joint which grew worse during his 17-hour workdays. Glenn had a full hip replacement in October. After the two surgeries, pain began to be a daily part of Glenn’s life. Finally the pain was so intense that he no longer could go to rehab. Then problems started with his lungs. The orthopedic surgeon said there was nothing wrong with his surgery but during one of his many hospital admissions Glenn and his wife Teri were told he had MRSA. He was placed in a private room where visitors were required to wash their hands, put on a gown, gloves and mask before entering the room. He spent weeks in the hospital and continued to take vancomycin for the MRSA after he was released.

After returning home Glenn continued to have pain and difficulty breathing which required visits to the emergency room often. Teri would beg for help because she could see the stress on him just to breathe. They also consulted with pain management doctors to monitor the pain medications needed in ever increasing doses. Except for about 15 days in a nursing home, Glenn was in the hospital from July, 2005 until January, 2006. His lungs were infected with MRSA and he was in a great deal of pain. He died on January 26, 2006 unaware of what was going on around him. “Death was the only escape from the horrible things MRSA had done to him and his body,” said his wife Teri.

Stop MRSA– A poem by Teri Cartrette

My Fight

Who would have ever thought you would pay for this with your life?
It’s an infection that seems to be rampant and causing so much strife.

It just seems there was no one willing to say you would not get well.
There were no answers as to why you had to go through hell.

The countless days and months of pain and suffering.
The awful damage to your lungs, which left you smothering.

There were signs posted on the doors all around hospital rooms.
But who knew this staph infection was a sickness that dooms.

The surgery you had was to keep you out of work for six weeks.
Who knew that two years and nine months MRSA would reek?

Watching you suffer daily while continuing to pray.
Reliving the pain should I have asked you to stay?

Fourteen states are required to report to the public these staff infections.
How many people will have to become infected not having any directions?

There are sites about hospital infections that are fighting to take action.
If you know about this infection then we need to battle it with a passion.

There has got to be a drive today to get this under control.
Before it enters your life, which is too much of a toll.

by TeriCartrette © March, 2006

Author’s Comments:
“This is what took the life of my 50 year old husband…..”

Alicia Cole of Los Angeles, CA

Alicia, an actress who played a doctor in this public health ad, is a Survivor of Necrotizing Fasciitis, which she contracted following routine surgery at a top rated hospital in August of 2006. Following her mother’s discovery of a black dot on Alicia’s stomach, she was thrust into a barrage of tests, drugs and six more surgeries to save her life and possible amputation of her left leg.

After a month in ICU and a two month hospital stay, Alicia’s next 12 months revolved around twice daily nursing visits for dressing changes and multiple weekly doctor’s appointments. She is still healing, going to doctors and fighting to establish a new ‘normal’ life.

Prior to her ordeal, Alicia was a working actress and a 15 year veteran of the Screen Actors Guild. Alicia vowed that if her life was spared she would dedicate herself to insuring that no other family would have to endure the trauma and burdens created by a preventable hospital Infection. While still healing she has been using her experience as a former teacher and paralegal in addition to her public speaking skills to educate others on the dangers of hospital acquired infections and fighting for changes in the reporting and malpractice laws. She also counsels with other Survivors of Necrotizing Fasciitis.

Marion Costa of Red Bank, NJ

In 2003, 63-year-old Marion Costa was rushed to the hospital for treatment of a life threatening gastrointestinal bleed. She received two pints of blood before being moved to the ICU and then to a step-down unit when her condition stabilized. The Heparin IV Lock (Heplock) used by hospital staff was left in her arm as a precautionary measure in case she need additional blood transfusions in the ICU and dated for removal in three days.

Three days later Marion developed severe headache, backache and leg pain. She became disoriented and spiked a fever that went up to 105 degrees. Her doctor had to put her to sleep for pain control and she awoke 36 hours later having no idea what happened to her. She had been cultured and diagnosed with Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and was put on Vancomycin and other antibiotics to treat the infection. Her primary care physician visited her a few days later and Marion complained of pain and stiffness in her upper arm. Her doctor took one look at the outdated Heplock that was still in her arm after six days and told her that now he knew the source of her infection. He ordered tests that morning and found phlebitis in the artery where the expired Heplock had been inserted.

But that was just the beginning of Marion’s hospital infection ordeal. A week later severe gastrointestinal bleeding resumed and she was diagnosed with a C-difficile, which caused inflammation of her colon and diarrhea. Again, she required more blood transfusions. Within the week, she was discharged to a nursing home to continue her antibiotics treatments for her MRSA infection. After one week at the nursing home she began running another high fever and a few days later was transferred by ambulance back to the hospital. She was diagnosed with a gram negative blood infection, which was found lodged in the PICC line used for administering her antibiotics. Marion was treated with eight different antibiotics to treat the blood infection.

Marion considers it a miracle that she survived her hospital infection nightmare. She remains angry that her life was endangered by the poor infection control practices she observed during her hospitalization.

Donat Desjardins of Hebron, CT

When 79-year-old Donat Desjardins had to undergo a heart valve replacement in July 2004, his surgeon expected everything to go smoothly and that he would spend about 7-10 days in the hospital recovering from the operation. About two hours after the procedure was complete, he experienced a complication that required another nine-hour surgery. Unfortunately, he soon began to develop multiple infections and he never recovered. At first, an infection in the replacement valve required a third surgery. Then he developed an infection in his sternum that resulted in another operation. Because his surgeons had to open Donat’s chest so many times and he had become dehydrated, they were unable to close it back up. His health began to deteriorate further as he developed a series of additional infections. His kidneys soon began to fail, his skin turned opaque and he had to have a tracheotomy because his swallowing reflex became damaged. Throughout this time, his daughter Jeannine filed numerous complaints with the hospital’s Patient Advocate unit, but to no avail. She understands that infections are common in hospitals, but believes there was serious neglect in her father’s case. She says, “No one should suffer as he did when I truly believe it could’ve been avoided if the hospital had taken more care to maintain a sterile environment.” After five heart wrenching months in the intensive care unit, Donat died in November 2004.

Carter Dettor of Amelia, VA

At age 75, Carter Dettor maintained an active lifestyle that included running one hour every morning on his treadmill, taking care of his large yard, and hiking in the mountains near his home. It was Carter’s love of hiking that prompted him to undergo knee replacement surgery in April 2007.

Carter’s surgery appeared to go well and he spent five days recovering in the hospital before being released to go home. He was discharged with large blisters covering his leg from the incision site on his knee all they way down to his ankle, but hospital staff didn’t seemed to be concerned about his condition. Later that day, however, Carter started experiencing an irregular heartbeat and became light-headed when he tried to stand. He was rushed by ambulance to another nearby hospital, where he was admitted for another week’s stay. His blisters were treated as burns. Carter ran a low grade fever while in the hospital, but he was never tested for infection. After a week in this hospital, Carter was sent home to resume his physical therapy.

Unfortunately, Carter had to return to his original hospital one week later because he continued to run a fever and had become very disoriented and lethargic. Blood tests soon revealed that he had a MRSA infection, which his surgeon later acknowledged started at the surgical incision site on his knee. The next day he was back in surgery to clean out the surgical site and to insert a filter to safeguard against blood clots. At that point, Carter was moved to the hospital’s critical care unit, where his condition deteriorated rapidly. He was put on a ventilator and began dialysis because his kidneys were failing. Plans also were made to remove his gall bladder. Four weeks after his initial knee replacement surgery, Carter died. He left behind a family that still struggles to understand how routine knee surgery could have resulted in a fatal infection.

Andy DuShane of Rochester, MN

After falling and breaking his left leg in 1999, Andy DuShane went to the hospital where an emergency room doctor took care of his closed fracture. Andy left with a cast on his leg but had to return nine days later for surgery because the fracture turned out to be more serious than originally thought. During surgery, a plate was put in his leg to address the fracture. Unfortunately, Andy developed a deep infection that was likely caused by an unsterile screw used in the surgery. The plate was removed and replaced with a new one and he was put on oral antibiotics for ten months. But the infection persisted and he had to have another surgery to remove the plate along with dead bone from the infection. He was sent home to continue antibiotic treatments administered through a PIC line in his arm for ten weeks. Andy has had multiple surgeries on his leg and ended up missing about two years of work. Because he had to rely on crutches for four and a half years, he developed additional injuries to his shoulder, wrists, right knee and right hip that have left him permanently disabled. The injuries to his shoulder and wrists required additional surgeries. As a registered nurse, Andy is well aware that surgeries always come with risks, but his faith in his hospital has been destroyed by all of the problems he developed as a result of the infection he acquired.

Ellen of Trumansburg, NY

 

Ellen, age 51, had enjoyed excellent health her entire life until she needed surgical repair of an ACL (knee ligament) in July, 1995. Within two weeks of her knee surgery, infection had set in which was diagnosed as MRSA. After being treated with antibiotics and whirlpool therapy, she was hospitalized again in September 1995 and required further surgery to remove some of the hardware from the infection site. In the fall of 1997, she had a recurrence of the infection which required more surgery, followed by three months of isolation at home. The surgeon who reviewed her previous hospital records found evidence of infection from her 1995 follow up surgery. Since her recovery, her health has been good but her doctor has told her the infection could come back.

 

Barbara F. of South Burlington, VT

After taking a bad fall, Barbara required spinal surgery to repair two herniated discs and some dislocated vertebrae. She spent seven days in the hospital following surgery before being discharged to continue her recovery at home. Four days later, she started running a fever and noticed that pus was leaking from her surgical incision site. She returned to a local hospital and was told that she had developed a methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) infection. MRSA is resistant to certain antibiotics and can be difficult to treat. She was transported by ambulance back to the original hospital where her back surgery had taken place, about 75 miles from her home. She underwent a second surgery to clean and debride the infected tissue and flood it with antibiotics. She was told that she had developed the infection in the operating room during her initial surgery. After another week’s hospitalization, she was discharged and continued her recovery at home for another month under the care of family members and home health care attendants before she could take care of herself. Two years later, she is still dealing with back pain and weakness, due to the infection and a failed fusion of two vertebrae, also due to the infection. Some of the metal hardware used in her surgery is now broken because of the failed fusion. Since MRSA likes metal, there is concern that it could be dormant in Barbara’s back so she must take 100mg of minocycline twice a day as a preventative. Her doctors have advised her to continue the antibiotic treatments for the rest of her life.

Gregory of Ellicot City, MD

In November 2003, Gregory contracted a life threatening staph infection following spinal surgery. Gregory needed the surgery because he was experiencing significant back pain from spinal stenosis, a constriction of the spinal canal in his lower(lumbar) vertebrae. Before his surgery, Gregory expected to spend 2-3 days in the hospital recovering from the procedure. But less than 24 hours after the surgery, he developed a high fever that his doctors determined was infection-related. A day later, he underwent a second operation to flush the surgical wound in an attempt to clean out a potential source of the infection. But the infection persisted and Gregory experienced two excruciating weeks at the hospital during which his temperature climbed to 104 degrees for several days. Gregory was given Vancomycin, which is used to treat antibiotic-resistant infections, for twelve days at the hospital and another five weeks at home after he was discharged. Unfortunately, the drug proved very harsh on his system and he began to experience kidney failure. While his infection eventually cleared up and his kidneys improved, Gregory believes he still is recovering from the effects of this nearly fatal hospital acquired infection.

 

Arnold Jamnik of Canyon Lake, TX

Arnold Jamnik, 49, suffered a motorcycle accident in 1975 that left him with degenerative disc disease. However, it wasn’t until the year 2000 that the pain became unbearable and Arnold learned that he had actually broken his back in the accident and ruptured two discs. He underwent back surgery and felt great after his recovery.

In the last few years, however, Arnold’s pain came back and he began seeing a pain management doctor. On November 29, 2007, he underwent a second back surgery. He was discharged on December 4th and by the 8th the incision area was bright red and oozing. It appeared that Arnold had an infection, so he returned to the surgeon’s office on the 10th to re-open the wound and begin draining the fluid. From January 4th to February 15th, Arnold used a wound vac to promote healing.

Arnold’s doctors weren’t clear about what kind of infection he had. He tested negative for MRSA in a pre-op test before his initial surgery but two days after surgery he was told that he was positive for MRSA.

During a visit with his primary physician a couple of months later, Arnold was retested and the results came back negative. After the wound was re-opened, the surgeon’s office tested the tissue which came back positive for Staphylococcus aureus. By Jauary. 1st , it appeared that the infection had cleared up.

Today Arnold remains in pain and has limited mobility. As a salesman Arnold spends most of his time driving or on the phone. Given his condition, it’s hard for him to live a more active lifestyle. However, his fusions are healing fine and he’s just begun aquatic therapy which has already improved his posture.

Kelsie Knepp of Lapel, IN

Kelsie Knepp was an active 17-year-old high school volleyball player when a bad landing on a spike injured her ACL. She went in for knee surgery on September 17, 2007 expecting to be back at school after just one week. Kelsie went back to class, but developed soreness in her leg and felt so sick she wasn’t able to go back the next day. Instead, she went back to the hospital where doctors determined she had developed an infection, opened her surgical incision and cleaned out the wound. A nurse handed Kelsie’s mother a pamphlet on MRSA, with the doctor dismissing the infection as “bad luck.” Kelsie had a MRSA infection in her blood and was sent home with a PICC line that she used until the end of October.

Kelsie was finally feeling better, until January when she noticed fluid coming out of her knee. At the hospital emergency room, her doctor believed a pocket of fluid may have burst and took a blood culture that came back negative for infection. In March the infection came back and Kelsie underwent two surgeries to clean out the infection, including scraping out a part of her femur that had become infected. The wound was left open and closed two days later. Kelsie stayed at the hospital for a total of six days until she was sent home with a PICC line to administer antibiotics over the next month.

Since then, Kelsie’s gained a lot of flexibility back in her knee and the MRSA infection hasn’t returned. She’s now able to play sports, though nothing full force, she notes. Because of her hospital acquired infection, she ended up missing one-third of the school year instead of the one week she was supposed to be out following her first operation.

Larry of Beaverton, OR

Following a motorcycle accident, Larry underwent surgery to repair crushed bone in his upper arm. The surgery went well, but about four days later his shoulder became inflamed and very sore. Erickson called his doctor to report his symptoms and was reassured that his condition was normal following such surgery. But by the next day, his shoulder pain had worsened and he decided to visit his doctor in-person. Again, he was told that he had nothing to worry about and was sent home. A day or two later he went to the emergency room at his hospital with a high fever and chills. The emergency room doctor realized that Erickson had a serious infection and ordered immediate surgery to clean out the wound. Tests of the infectious material removed from the surgical site revealed that six different kinds of bacteria were present. Erickson was given antibiotics by IV and kept at the hospital for ten days. After he was discharged, he continued the IV antibiotic treatments at home for the next six months along with two other antibiotics in pill form. Unfortunately, Erickson was laid off from work because of his lengthy recovery. He continued taking Cipro for another year after the IV treatments ended.

Lorie Ossman of Ashland, PA

 

In 2003, Lorie Ossman gave birth to her second child through a scheduled c-section. One week after she was discharged from the hospital, Lorie woke up feeling very ill with a temperature of 102 degrees. She could barely move and her c-section incision was bright red and burning hot. Lorie called her doctor who urged her to go the hospital. It took over four hours in the emergency room before she was admitted to the hospital to an isolated room in the pediatrics ward where she could breastfeed her infant son. Tests revealed that she had a very elevated white blood count due to an infection at her surgical site. It wasn’t until the following evening that she finally saw a doctor from her OBGYN’s office who told her that infections like hers were no one’s fault and sometimes just happened in the hospital.

Her doctor drained the infected incision, cleaned it out and packed it with gauze. She was sent home a day later once her white blood count fell and it became clear that she was beginning to respond to the antibiotics. A visiting nurse trained her husband how to do wound care at home. Over the next few weeks the infection cleared up, but Lorie is convinced that she is still dealing with its long term impact. She and her husband have been trying unsuccessfully to have another child and her doctor has indicated that the infection could have spread deep into her c-section incision and scarred her tubes. Lorie is angry that she was not given antibiotics before her surgery even though she requested them. Research by the American Health Care Quality Association has shown that up to half of all surgical site infections could be avoided if appropriate antibiotics are administered one hour before surgery and discontinued after 24 hours.

Daniel Patterson of Lilburn, GA

Daniel Patterson suffered an injury while mountain biking in November 2007 and underwent shoulder surgery two months later after an MRI showed possible signs of osteoarthritis. He was discharged following surgery to recover at home.

About one week later he began having night sweats that left him completely soaked. He called his doctor and was instructed by a nurse to monitor the incision for redness and puffiness. After another week passed, Daniel’s incision site had flared up. He could tell that fluid and pus had built up under the incision so he drained it himself. He notified his doctor of his infection that morning and was called in for an evaluation later that day.

Daniel’s doctor squeezed the incision area harder for any other fluid or pus, and fat tissue cells also began to come out. His doctor advised him to monitor the wound site, and while down in Florida for the weekend, Daniel saw no progress. Upon return, his doctor saw him immediately. Daniel had surgery the next day which revealed an infection touching the bone. His doctor cleaned the area and split more bone off. Daniel stayed overnight at the hospital, and was then sent home with a PICC line so he could undergo IV antibiotic treatments for the next four weeks.

While the expected recovery time for Daniel’s initial surgery was six-eight weeks, it ended up taking 12 weeks for him to recover. His health has improved greatly since his second surgery and he’s pleased with the results, though he’s concerned the infection could reoccur. Daniel also had the luck of dealing with a hospital that acknowledged their error and paid for all of his medical bills.

 

Robert Patton of Morganton, NC

In 2001, 53-year old Robert Patton underwent heart bypass surgery to address his coronary heart disease. Robert’s surgery was completed successfully and he seemed to be enjoying a normal recovery until he visited his doctor two weeks later. A chest X-ray taken during Robert’s post-surgery check-up revealed that he had a staph infection. Later that day, Robert had emergency surgery to open his chest and clean out the infection. Robert remained in a coma after his surgery. During that time, his body turned black and swelled considerably and his family was told that his chances of survival were not good.

Robert emerged from his coma eight days later. Because he was so medicated, he experienced what his doctors described as a series of psychotic events for the remainder of his hospital stay that made him feel threatened by his nurses and confused about the welfare of his family. Fifteen days after his second surgery, Robert was discharged with a PIC line to continue his IV antibiotic treatments at home for another two weeks. It took Robert another couple of months before he could return to work and a few years before he regained his mental sharpness and felt fully recovered.

This was not the first time Robert and his family had been touched by a hospital infection. Robert’s father had an even more difficult experience when he acquired a hospital infection following heart bypass surgery in 1999. His father’s infection was similarly diagnosed at his first post-surgery check-up and he had to undergo a second surgery to clean out the infection. He spent 44 days at the hospital with his chest open while being treated for the infection, which was consuming his sternum. Every six hours, a nurse would have to unpack and pack his chest wound with gauze soaked in antibiotics. Robert’s father was on morphine throughout his hospital stay and begged his doctors to let him die. But he recovered and came home a shadow of his former robust self. He died five years later wishing he had never had the heart bypass surgery.

Donna Roberts of Grandview, MO

Four weeks after Donna Roberts underwent a hysterectomy in 2004, she had to return to the hospital because her surgical incision burst open. She soon discovered she had a staph infection. After initially being treated for the infection at home, Roberts was readmitted to the hospital for four days of treatment. She was discharged and received follow-up care at home and the infection appeared to clear up. But two years later, she developed a Bartholin’s gland cyst and went back to the hospital to have it drained. Unfortunately, her infection had re-emerged. The cyst could not be drained and it turned out that Roberts’ had a Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) infection. She spent the next nine days in the hospital, undergoing five surgeries to clean and drain the infection. Roberts continued her antibiotic treatments at home and eventually the infection cleared up.

However, two months later, the infection came back on her arm and lower stomach. This time she went to a different hospital and spent five more days there to drain and treat the infection. In 2006, her husband stepped on a tack and his foot became infected. After seeking treatment at the hospital, he discovered that he had developed MRSA, which could have been picked up from contact with Roberts. Because he is a diabetic, the infection hit him particularly hard and he spent four weeks in the hospital and required surgery on his foot.

Roberts’ hospital infection has turned out to be a life changing event. Her doctors have told her that she may have occasional infection outbreaks and that it is something she’ll have to deal with for the rest of her life. During her initial hospitalization for the infection, she lost her job and has been unable to find steady work since then because her energy level remains low. She hopes that by sharing her story, she’ll help to shed light on this serious patient safety problem and spare others from what she has experienced.

Sandi Sampson of Boaz, AL

When Sandi Sampson had ankle replacement surgery in December 2003, she looked forward to finally recovering from a broken ankle bone she injured in her backyard. Unfortunately, Sandi left the hospital not only with a new ankle, but also a staph infection from her surgery. In the weeks following her operation, Sandi felt tired and always seemed to run a low grade fever, but she didn’t think much of it. She was diagnosed with the infection after her cast was removed three months after her surgery and it became clear during physical therapy that the ankle replacement had failed. Tests revealed that she had Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), a difficult to treat infection.

As a result, the prosthesis was removed and an antibiotic spacer was installed in its place. Sandi underwent 12 weeks of vancomycin treatments administered through a PIC line at home. The infection seemed to improve and Sandi had another ankle replacement surgery done. But the prosthesis never bonded to the bone and Sandi experienced another outbreak of MRSA. She was put on vancomycin for another month to treat the infection. In June 2005, she had another surgery to install a concrete spacer in place of her ankle, but again it failed to adhere to her bone.

Sandi’s doctor has told her that the MRSA, which is in her bone and blood, will never go away. It becomes dormant after it is treated, but trauma to her body — like a spider bite she got in November 2005 — can cause it to re-emerge. Sandi underwent another surgery in May 2006 to address her ankle problem and hopes that it will be her last. But if it is not successful, she may have to have her leg below her knee amputated.

Raquel Claveria Sanchez of Houston, TX

Raquel’s father had bypass surgery at Methodist Hospital in Houston, Texas in 2003. Shortly after leaving the hospital her father was readmitted because he didn’t feel well and they could not determine what was wrong. Another doctor who did not perform the bypass surgery did a catheterization on his left hand to see if he could determine the problem with the bypass. The left hand got infected and her father began running a fever. Still unable to determine what was wrong with his heart, they performed a second catheterization on his left side. He began to have severe abdominal pains after the second catheterization. His right arm looked infected. The doctor took a sample and determined it was a staph infection. Raquel’s father stayed in the hospital for two more weeks and he was discharged during the third week. He continued to experience severe abdominal pain and the pain medication he was taking began to affect his breathing. His doctors performed an MRI that revealed he had an infection in his lumbar area, which was causing the stomach pain and he was readmitted to the hospital. At the request of the patient, the doctors agreed to let him go home and pay for a home health care worker to administer the antibiotics. His condition got worse and he was taken back to the hospital. He was there for three more weeks fighting the infection and then died. His death certificate said he died from a chronic pulmonary condition with no mention of the staph infection that led to the abdominal pain and subsequent medication that ultimately affected his breathing. He first entered Methodist Hospital in August, 2003 and died on November 3.

Michael Skolnik, CO

Michael Skolnik… March 1979-June 4, 2008

It is difficult not to feel the sadness that permeates our house, as hard as we try, our beloved child, who made us a family of three, is gone forever. The loss of Michael has left scars that cannot be hidden behind bittersweet smiles.

During normal activity, Michael passed out in September 2001. A CT scan showed a slight possibility of a colloid cyst, but whatever the two to three millimeter dot was, it was non-symptomatic. I consulted with a neurosurgeon who said it was urgent to place Michael in ICU for observation. The neurosurgeon did not mince words; Michael needed to have brain surgery within two days.

It was to be a three-hour operation and six days in the hospital. The neurosurgeon explained that he had done many of these procedures, and he really didn’t even have to go inside the brain to excise the cyst. He said conclusively that the cyst was there and was blocking the cerebral spinal fluid from flowing.
The three hour operation lasted six hours with no cyst ever being found. However, heavy manipulation had been done to Michael’s brain. His “six day hospital stay” became five months in ICU, 22 months in other medical institutions and the last six months of his life at home, in our own “ICU.”

Upon further examination of the CT scan, it became evident that the neurosurgeon’s pressure to rush Michael into surgery was unwarranted. This marked the beginning of a 32-month nightmare of brain surgeries, infections, pulmonary embolisms, respiratory arrest, vision impairment, paralysis, psychosis, severe seizure disorder, short-term memory loss, multiple organ failure and near total dependence and disability. Michael could not eat, speak, or move anything but his right hand. Nearly every day during this traumatic time, Michael used his sole limb control to shape his fingers into a gun, and hold them to his temple. Our strapping 6’4’’ EMT and nursing student was now totally helpless and had the cognitive ability of a third grader.

Michael’s medical bills amounted to 4.5 million dollars, and the legal bills were just beginning to amass. We listened to the doctor who had claimed to have performed many such surgeries admit – in a legal deposition – that Michael’s procedure had only been his second. Despite all our attempts to research the doctor’s background, this was the first time we’d heard the truth about his level of experience.

I remember thinking I had to do something; our son is not coming back, but perhaps now someone else’s loved one won’t be lost. Three years after Michael’s death, we fought for physician profile transparency and disclosure in Colorado. We found out that there were other medical malpractice cases pending and a number of formal complaints to the Board of Medical Examiners regarding this medical predator.

At that time, none of this background information was available to the public. We worked to change that. On May 24, 2007 Colorado Governor Bill Ritter signed into law The Michael Skolnik Medical Transparency Act, which became effective January 2, 2008. In 2009, my organization–Colorado Citizens for Accountability—launched PatientsRightToKnow.org, which allows you to find out what physician background reporting is available in your state.

Historically, doctors are most trusted by our society. To maintain that trust, we all must advocate not only for insurance reform but for safe quality care. To have access to insurance without quality and safety is to have a bicycle without wheels or possibly a family that loses “their Michael”.

— Patty Skolnik, Michael’s mother and founder of Colorado Citizens for Accountability

Julie Smith of Reidville, SC

“In 2001 I contracted four infections during a partial hysterectomy resulting in flesh-eating bacteria. I went into septic shock, was resuscitated three times, went into multiple organ failure, was placed on life support, spent three days in a coma and nine days in critical care. Due to the bacteria, I lost 50 square inches of my abdomen during the debridement procedure. It took three follow up surgeries to rebuild my abdomen. I endured spinal damage, nerve damage and brain injury.

My husband was told that I would not have survived two more days if they had not readmitted me for what appeared to be a “hematoma” above the incision area that moved and burst my incision open. I was unable to sue the hospital, even though it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that the surgical tools couldn’t have been properly sterilized to acquire four infections on the operating table. In the South Carolina hospitals are protected by the laws of the state against having to disclose infectious disease statistics, therefore, preventing them from being used as discovery by a plaintiff.”

Nancy Stanziana of Irwin, PA

 

Just six hours after her hysterectomy surgery in October 2005, Nancy Stanziana knew something was terribly wrong. The incision from her surgery was burning and felt like it was on fire. When her nurse came to examine her, she took one look at the incision and ran out of the room to find a doctor. Nancy had contracted necrotizing fasciitis or the flesh-eating bacteria. She now was fighting for her life and was rushed into surgery. Nancy underwent five emergency operations over three days to remove the infected tissue from her abdomen. During these three days, she was kept in the hospital’s Burn Unit Intensive Care on a ventilator to assist her breathing. Once the surgeons determined they had stopped the infection, she was moved into another ICU where her wound was left open for five days. She had a final surgery to close the wound as best as could be done by a group of plastic surgeons.

Nancy was discharged a few days later to continue her recovery at home with her husband Blaine. The experience was devastating for the couple and Blaine soon developed shingles that his doctor said were probably activated from the tremendous stress he had been under. Blaine spent five days in the hospital and it took two months for the shingles to clear up. Nancy’s health problems didn’t end there. Eight months after her hysterectomy, she had to return to the hospital because the surgeries to remove the infected abdominal tissue had damaged her digestive tract and caused a blockage in her colon that became infected. She spent four days in the hospital being treated before she could return home. The Stanzianas hope that the worst is behind them but are still recovering emotionally from their ordeal. The experience has been a life-changing one that has motivated them to get involved in the effort to pressure hospitals to do a better job of preventing infections.

 

Thomas of Hawaiian Gardens, CA

After years of dealing with severe back pain caused by an injury sustained in an auto accident, Thomas underwent surgery in 2002 to repair two disks in his back. The surgery went smoothly and he was discharged from the hospital less than one week later. But after a few days he was rushed to the emergency room in critical condition. It turned out that Thomas had developed MRSA (Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus), an infection he caught from one of the surgical tools used during his back surgery. After undergoing another surgery to remove infected bone material and to clear out the infection, Thomas was put on Vancomycin and Gentamicin, two very strong antibiotics. Following a month of treatments, he began to experience serious dizziness, a common and debilitating side effect of taking Gentamacin. Tests revealed that the connection between his inner ear and brain had been severed as a result, making the damage to his balance permanent. Thomas has been unable to return to work and now every time he scratches or cuts himself he runs the risk of developing the infection again.

Victoria of Denver, CO

One week after Victoria delivered her second child through a C-section birth in 2000, she noticed a spot on her incision and soon developed a fever. Victoria consulted with her hospital’s on-call doctor, who said she probably had developed an infection from the surgery and prescribed an antibiotic, but no follow-up doctor’s visit. Unfortunately, the infection worsened and her fever climbed. After falling down the stairs at home as a result of her weakened state, she knew she needed immediate medical attention. She was diagnosed with a severe systemic staph infection and medical staff removed 2 liters of infectious material from her stomach. Victoria was told that she was close to death and was put on heavy antibiotics to treat the staph infection. In the months that followed, she remained very sick because her immune system was compromised and she had difficulty walking because the infection had settled in her legs. One year after her child’s birth, she required surgery to reconstruct the wall of her abdomen that was damaged as a result of her infection. Victoria has slowly found relief from her illness after working with some alternative health providers. But over four years after she first developed the infection, her stamina is still not restored and the experience has taken a significant emotional toll.

Hunter Whittlesey of Bainbridge Island, WA

Over the course of 57 days in the hospital, Hunter underwent a total of seven brain surgeries to remove and re-implant the shunts – four of these surgeries were within a 6-day period. In between the shunt procedures she had two tubes running from her brain to drain the fluid with aggressive antibiotic treatments, requiring her to lay prone on bed with no activity. Her parents and other family maintained a constant presence at the hospital because they observed staff repeatedly failing to follow basic hygiene and infection control procedures.

Eventually, at her parents insistence, Hunter was moved to a “glove and gown” isolation room where her infection cleared up – deemed a mere coincidence by hospital administration. Doctors confirmed Hunter has no immune or other system issues that would lead to these infections, claiming that “it’s just what happens in hospitals.” Two months after release from the hospital, Hunter was readmitted for placement of a feeding tube into her stomach due to the deterioration, inability to eat, continued vomiting and development setbacks she suffered.

One year after being released from the hospital and 27 months old, Hunter is still unable to eat solid food and vomits several times a day – none of which happened before her lengthy stay in the hospital due to infections. She still is fed through a feeding tube in her stomach and is unable to sit up or crawl. She has been declined by health insurers and will have to go through the state insurance pool after her COBRA coverage expires. Confined to a wheelchair, Hunter attends a special needs preschool and receives physical and oral therapy several times a week, much of which is not covered by insurance. Hunter’s parents have become fierce advocates for infection reporting because she suffered so much from this experience.

 

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