Nora Bostrom had pulmonary hypertension that required her to use oxygen and take intravenous medications. Despite these challenges, she had a high quality of life. She was a bright, funny, and happy three-year-old, full of promise and optimism. But after a visit to the hospital, she became a victim of several preventable medical errors that lead to her death.
Nora awoke one day with a high heart rate, was unable to eat or drink, and complained of heart pain. She was taken to the emergency room of a prominent Bay Area hospital where she had been treated many times before. Her parents informed Nora’s treating cardiologist of her symptoms and that they were waiting in the ER. For three hours, no one evaluated Nora. When staff finally came to see her, they did not do an examination and did not order any treatment. The family waited nearly six hours more before Nora was given IV fluids. By that time, it was too late. Nora had already gone into acute heart failure as a result of dehydration. Nora’s heart was prematurely damaged as she waited for medical care that came too late. At that point, she required additional medications and many additional hospital stays.
Within 48 hours of being admitted to the hospital for one of the subsequent stays, Nora contracted a central line infection. She went into septic shock and nearly died. A few days later, while she was recovering from septic shock, Nora contracted a hospital-borne respiratory virus. While fighting the virus, a nurse administered a double dose of a potent medication. The nurse relied upon an outdated doctor’s order and within thirty minutes of receiving the double dose, Nora suffered heart failure and respiratory distress that required intervention.
Because Nora was too sick to eat as a result of the sepsis and respiratory virus, she received all her nutrition intravenously. Her parents later discovered that Nora had not been receiving any nutrition at the time she was given the double dose. The doctors mistakenly discontinued her intravenous nutrition and no medical staff noticed for several days. By the time they discovered the error, it was too late. A few days later, Nora was dead.
Each of these errors related to standards of basic care and were easily preventable. If hospital staff had done their jobs properly, Nora would still be alive. Thanks to California's arbitrary cap on noneconomic damages for patients harmed by medical negligence, the hospital had little incentive to reform its practices in the wake of Nora’s death.