On September 13, 2010, Sharese Pointer took her asthmatic son to St. James Hospital in Olympia Fields, Illinois after he began experiencing asthmatic symptoms. Shortly after arrival, the hospital told the family they did not have proper equipment to care for their 7 year-old boy, Aaron, and they advised he should go to their other hospital in Chicago Heights. Aaron was then taken by ambulance to St. James Hospital in Chicago Heights. There, hospital doctors stated they, too, could not care for the child. The Pointer family did not have private health insurance and, instead, only had Medicare coverage. So, Aaron and was, once again, sent to another hospital--St. Joseph Medical Center in Joliet--some thirty miles away during rush hour traffic. While en route to the third hospital, Aaron spoke his last words before dying "I...am...tired...of...breathing." As a Chicago medical malpractice lawyer, I am sickened by this story. This little boy died needlessly, I would argue, after being shuffled off to three different hospitals in eleven hours.
Asthma is a chronic disease of the airways that makes it difficult for people to breath. The death of a child under age fifteen from asthma is very rare. In 2007, there were 6.7 million children with asthma and around half had at least one asthma attack. That same year, there were only 213 deaths from asthma. The idea of a child dying while receiving proper medical treatment is particularly rare (if not unheard of) in this day in age. Indeed, according to a representative from the American Lung Association, "[i]t is often believed that most asthma deaths among children were uncontrolled. If this is the case, the risk for those who were being treated or received treatment would be even lower."
According to the Pointer family's Chicago medical malpractice attorney, Joseph Miroballi, this case is unusual. Why did St. James of Olympia Fields send Aaron to St. James of Chicago Heights? "They have the same facilities. There's no difference. Why didn't they transfer him to Hope Christ Hospital" which is just 18-19 miles away. Instead, Aaron was sent to a third hospital that day despite experiencing wheezing and difficulty breathing. According the family's lawyer, the fact Aaron was wheezing and struggling to breath should have been a sign not put him in an ambulance--he was "not stable." The family's lawyer filed a medical malpractice lawsuit naming the hospitals, several doctors, and the ambulance service. It will certainly be interesting to learn how the first two hospitals attempt to defend their actions.
Chicago Sun Times, Family Sues After Asthmatic Boy Sent to 3 Hospitals In 11 Hours, September 26, 2011.
WebMD, Asthma Health Center, September 26, 2011.