By CHRISTINE ARMARIO
Associated Press Writer
TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — The families of three pediatric cancer patients sued a Florida hospital this week, claiming their children died after contracting fungal infections from renovations being performed at the facility.
The lawsuit filed by parents against St. Joseph’s Hospital Inc. in Tampa on Tuesday claims the children were exposed to pathogenic fungi because the hospital failed to properly seal off an area under renovation.
Each of the children — ages 2, 5, and 9 — had been previously diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, a cancer of white blood cells. Two had recently gone into remission, and a third was still battling the disease.
Attorney Steven Yerrid, who is representing the families, said they believe dust containing the fungus became airborne and invaded the patients’ rooms, “where all these children then were forced to engage in yet another battle.”
“And this one was unnecessary, and could and should have been prevented,” he said.
In a statement, the hospital said patient safety is its top priority, and that they take necessary measures to reduce infections. Those include using barriers around construction areas, filtering the air and monitoring ventilation systems.
All those measures were in place when the infections occurred, spokeswoman Lisa Patterson said. The hospital is part of the BayCare Health System, a network of not-for-profit hospitals in the Tampa Bay region.
“Cancer kills more children than any other disease,” the hospital statement read. “Sometimes, despite all the measures we have in place, all the medical expertise we provide, and all the personal care we deliver, patients do not survive.”
The lawsuit offers the following patient accounts:
Matthew J. Gliddon was first diagnosed with leukemia in 2005. After being treated with chemotherapy, he went into remission. But two and a half years later, his cancer returned. From November of 2007 through February 2008, he spent most of his time as a patient at St. Joseph’s Hospital receiving treatment.
The 5-year-old’s white blood cell count dropped very low, and he was at risk for bacterial and fungal infections.
According to the lawsuit, physicians discovered a spot on his nose, which grew and began destroying tissue. A nose biopsy later determined that he was suffering from a nasal mold infection.
As a result of the infection, Gliddon underwent surgery that removed most of his septum. Still suffering from cancer, and now in the presence of a mold infection, he was not a candidate for a bone marrow transplant. Gliddon died in April.
Around that same time, 2-year-old Kaylie Gunn-Rimes was also taken to St. Joseph’s.
She had been diagnosed with leukemia when she was less than a year old. Last January, the toddler had an allergic reaction to one of her medications and was admitted to the hospital. Though she was cancer-free at the time, she was staying in the pediatric cancer floor and developed a fungal infection in her lungs. She spent 76 days on a ventilator before dying.
The third patient was a 9-year-old girl named Sierra Kesler.
Her leukemia had been in remission, but in March 2008 she went to the hospital and physicians discovered it had returned. She was given chemotherapy and went into remission again. The lawsuit says Sierra returned to the hospital a week later with a fever and coughing. She eventually had to be intubated and died in May.
In each case, tests confirmed the presence of a pathogenic fungi.
The lawsuit says patient rooms were located right above the construction activity, where renovation work would have created a moderate to high level of dust. The air condition systems would have brought air from the outside into patient rooms, it claims.
Sometimes, the patients had to be transported right through the construction area. The parents claim the hospital failed to take common precautions, including sealing the area under construction from non-work areas.
At least one of the parents had raised concerns about the air ventilation in their child’s room, Yerrid said.
The hospital said that aside from using barriers around construction areas, it also conducts regular preventative maintenance rounds throughout the hospital; infection control, nursing, and other departments work together to provide a clean environment; and they educate families about the importance of infection control measures.
Yerrid said the parents are filing the lawsuit in hopes of helping other cancer patients. The parents themselves did not wish to speak publicly, he said. “Every precaution that needs to be taken, should be taken, from the welfare of our most vulnerable, these young weakened children,” he said.
BayCare Health System: http://www.baycare.org/
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.
Attorney Gordon Johnson
Past Chair Traumatic Brain Injury Litigation Group, American Association of Justice
email@example.com :: 800-992-9447 :: Attorney Gordon S. Johnson, Jr.