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Staunton tragedy a message for all parents, doctors

The late Rory Staunton.
GONE BUT NOT FORGOTTEN The late Rory Staunton.

Rory Staunton tragedy has a vital message for parents and doctors

Neill O’Neill

THE death of Rory Staunton in New York earlier this year has begun to have far-reaching implications. The medical centre that failed to correctly diagnose the 12 year old last week admitted that there were failings in his care. The statement stopped short of saying his death was avoidable, but expert medical opinion suggests that this is the case.
Rory, son of well-known Louisburgh-native Ciaran Staaunton and his wife Orlaith, was sent home from the emergency room at New York University Langone Medical Center after being mistakenly diagnosed with a stomach virus by doctors there and, earlier, by his own paediatrician. He died later from Toxic Shock Syndrome after the deadly Strep infection that was consuming his body was left untreated.

Deadly scratch
Two days earlier, while playing basketball at his school gym, Rory had cut his arm. He arrived at his paediatrician’s office the next day, Thursday, March 29, vomiting, feverish and with pain in his leg. He was sent to the emergency room at NYU Langone Medical Center where doctors agreed he was suffering from an upset stomach and dehydration. He was given fluids, told to take some medicine for fever and pain, and sent home.
However, Rory’s condition was, in fact, already grave. Bacteria had entered his bloodstream, probably through the cut on his arm. He was sliding into a septic crisis, and his body was fighting a battle it would not win. On April 1 this year, three nights after he was sent home from the emergency room, he died in the intensive care unit. The cause was severe septic shock brought on by the infection.

Signs overlooked
Tellingly, there were several signs that Rory’s situation was far worse than a regular childhood ailment, but these warning signs, backed up conclusively by the results of medical tests, were not heeded by his doctors. Apart from clinical test results, his breathing, heart rate and temperature were all abnormally high.
Moments after a doctor ordered Rory’s discharge, believing fluids had made him better, his vital signs, recorded while still at the hospital, suggested that he could be seriously ill. Even more pointed signals emerged three hours later, when the Stauntons were at home, as the hospital’s laboratory reported that Rory was producing vast quantities of cells that combat bacterial infection.
The Stauntons however, knew nothing of his weak vital signs or abnormal lab results. “Nobody said anything that night,” Orlaith Staunton has since recalled, adding that nobody from the hospital ‘followed up the next day’ on her son, and all the while ‘he’s at home, dying on the couch.’

The story is currently very prominent in America, where it has been followed closely in The New York Times and on television. The medical centre issued a statement on ‘The Today Show’ on NBC, saying that emergency-room physicians and nurses would from now on be “immediately notified of certain lab results suggestive of serious infection, such as elevated band counts.” Rory Staunton’s band count, which measures white blood cell levels, was nearly five times higher than normal, a sign of serious infection – but no alarm was sounded.
Other medical experts have since come out saying Rory’s case has implications for medicine at large, which will improve patient care. They have stated how important it is for doctors to keep an open mind and to listen to patients when they state something that doesn’t fit with the doctors’ own ‘internal narrative of the case’.
“These are the hardest things to do in medicine and yet the most important,” one expert is quoted as saying.
Rory’s parents and his younger sister, Kathleen, brought his body to Ireland for his funeral, and buried him with his maternal grandmother in Drogheda, Co Louth. His grief-stricken father visited Westport that week, calling in on relatives, including his own mother Tessie, who still lives in Knappagh, just outside Westport.
Ciaran recalled in a conversation during this visit how his son had been looking forward to visiting his family’s homestead and his grandmother and cousins again this year, like he had done many times before.
That visit, tragically, would never take place.

HAVE YOUR SAY email neilloneill@mayonews.ie with your comments