A mother is afraid her daughter’s only means of communication will be affected after nurses let a misplaced IV needle fill the child’s arm with fluid overnight.
Jalena Gunther, of Edmonton, Canada, is no stranger to medical emergencies. She adopted two children with severe medical conditions, hoping to give them better lives than they would have had in overseas orphanages, according to Metronews.
She brought her 3-year-old daughter, Emmy, to Stollery Children’s Hospital early last week for open-heart surgery. The surgery went well, and Emmy was recovering, but not eating as much as doctors wanted, CTV News reported.
Doctors decided to feed Emmy a solution of sugar, potassium, and sodium via an intravenous tube. The tube was inserted into the child’s hand sometime around 6 p.m. local time on Friday, Jan. 19.
Gunther told CTV that Emmy seemed fine for an hour but then started “fussing and crying.” Gunther asked doctors for more pain medication for the girl, assuming that she was experiencing discomfort form her surgery wound.
Exhausted from staying awake for most of the prior few days, Gunther left Emmy in the care of her grandmother, and headed home for some much-needed sleep, reported CTV.
Gunther received a text from her mother around 8:30 that night, saying Emmy was still complaining, and the doctors had not yet arrived. The grandmother requested again that Emmy be given more pain medication, but she never was. Nurses did come and assess the situation, but found nothing abnormal, she said.
It was not until the next morning that a nurse noticed that the tape holding the IV in place was wet. The nurse then saw that the bed under Emmy’s arm was also wet.
The nurse immediately ripped off all the tape and bandaging around the girl’s arm.
“She felt up her arm and felt that it was just stiff and swollen, which was the fluid in there,” Gunther told CBC. “She immediately started ripping off the tape and pulling everything off. That’s when she’d seen her hand was very red, which was her skin starting to die.”
Emmy’s hand was horribly swollen, discolored, and covered with blisters. (See image here—Warning: may disturb some viewers)
At some point, the IV needle had fallen out of the vein and continued pumping the nutrient solution into the flesh of the girl’s arm.
Emmy, who has Down’s syndrome and communicates primarily by hand signs, was unable to ask for help.
Doctors rushed Emmy into surgery to undo as much of the damage as possible. Surgeons had to make a trio of incisions to release the excess fluid and cut away dead flesh, leaving the incisions open to drain. The next day they had to operate again to remove more dead flesh and to close the wounds.
“It hurts everything inside of me that this was avoidable, and now my daughter is going to go through weeks of intense pain,” Gunther told CTV.
Questions of Liability
Nurses checked on Emmy at least three times during the night, and none of them saw the leaking IV line. Checking the IV is a standard procedure for nurses.
“I believe it was negligence,” Gunther told CBC. “Things were just missed and I really don’t know why, truthfully. They knew she had the IV. It should have been checked.
“I wouldn’t know to check her IV. I assumed it was her heart, as did her grandmother. But that’s something that they’re trained to know and is in their protocol to check and … I don’t know why they didn’t do it, so to me, it is negligence.”
Gunther thinks Stollery’s management should at least reprimand the doctors and nurses involved in her daughter’s care. She also wants to see better training for the healthcare professional employed at the hospital.
Alberta Health Services (AHS) said in a statement that they sympathize with Gunther and Emmy, and will review the case.
“We are doing all we can to make sure she receives the care she needs. We are involved with this family and reviewing the care that has been provided,” the statement said.
“We are very sorry about the complication that this little girl has experienced. Our standards of care should not result in this type of complication for any of our patients.
“AHS takes every patient or family complaint regarding care extremely seriously, and we are thoroughly reviewing the circumstances of this case.This includes closely reviewing the care provided to Emmy, and working closely with the family to answer any questions or concerns they may have.
“We will continue to be available to them at any time.”
The problem, Gunther said, is that if any permanent damage was done, it will hurt her daughter especially deeply.
Because Emmy communicates by hand signs, losing the use of one hand would amount to silencing her.
“We won’t know for a few weeks what the use of her hand will be,” Gunther said. “She’ll likely need physio. Even just because she hasn’t used it for so long, there will be retraining of those muscles.
“If she can’t have meaningful use of that hand or make a fist and move her hand, she won’t be able to sign with her hand.”