baby born 15 weeks early survives until lethal medication error

There was a time when babies who were born prematurely had very little chance of survival. Now, intensive medical intervention can help babies who are born after 23 weeks, which is about 15 weeks early.

Although many preemies still face an uphill battle, the survival rate for even those born seriously premature is higher now than ever before. Recently, a mother gave birth to a son 15 weeks premature. Although the boy only weighed 1 pound, 8 ounces — and even though the statistics weren’t in his favor — he survived. It was a victory for the family and a testament to the value of advanced medical care for preemies.

Then, about a month after he was born, a medication error sent the baby into cardiac arrest and killed him. What should have been a triumphant story about the miracles of modern medicine was turned into the all too familiar tragedy of what happens when proper procedures are not followed.

While the baby was in the hospital, he received a fatal dose of sodium chloride in an IV. The dose that the baby received was more than 60 times the amount he was prescribed. When the hospital investigated the mistake, they determined that the dosage had been incorrectly entered into the machine that mixes the solutions for the IV.

After the baby’s death, the hospital changed the safety procedures to help prevent similar mistakes. One hospital spokesperson said, “We have taken comprehensive steps…to ensure this type of tragedy does not happen again.”

The steps taken by the hospital are commendable, but one can’t help question why they weren’t already in place. If a system allows a prescription to be dispensed that is 60 times larger than it should be, why didn’t someone put safeguards in place to prevent human error? Hopefully the new measures will help prevent similar mistakes from happening in the future, but it’s not enough for the family who lost their only child.

The family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the hospital, and they were awarded $8.25 million. The settlement is a good start, but it’s not enough to console two parents who were forced onto an emotional rollercoaster during what should have been the miracle of birth.

Source: Chicago Sun-Times, “Couple whose baby died from wrong IV dose gets $8.25 million,” Dan Rozek, April 5, 2012

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