Mom thinks sick son should have received better care at Western Memorial
© Gary Kean
Shonna Carter and her one-year-old son Lynkin had a health care experience recently they wouldn’t wish on any one.
CORNER BROOK The next time Shonna Carter’s son gets as ill as he was last week, she says she’ll probably just drive all the way to St. John’s to have him looked at.
That’s how fed up the Corner Brook woman is with the service she and her son Lynkin, who turned one year old Wednesday, received at Western Memorial Regional Hospital last week.
Lynkin has had a ventriculoperitoneal shunt on his brain to drain fluid ever since he was two months old. It is something he must live with for the rest of his life.
When Carter came home from work on the afternoon of Sept. 4, her son’s caregiver told her Lynkin had an “off day” — that he had been uncharacteristically cranky and up in her arms nearly all day. That evening, after Lynkin projectile vomited, Carter decided to bring him to the hospital to be checked out.
She initially figured her baby might have had a gastrointestinal ailment. Deep down inside, her maternal instinct was telling her his condition was related to the shunt.
“I didn’t really think it was the stomach flu because he didn’t have the diarrhea that normally would go with it,” said Carter.
The long wait in outpatients for Lynkin to be seen that evening was just the start of two days of frustration and concern for Carter.
She said the nurse who looked at him shortly after they arrived at around 6:30 p.m. said she didn’t have time to weigh him when recording some of his information. About five hours later, the waiting room was still full of people and Lynkin had not been seen.
He was eventually examined, but not before Carter’s husband demanded that someone have a look at their sick child. They were given anti-nausea medication and sent home around 2 a.m.
“They were relaying to me that they believed it was just gastro and making me feel like an idiot for bringing him in just for that,” said Carter.
Thursday morning, Lynkin was still asleep at 10 a.m., which concerned his mother since he would normally be awake long before that. Carter woke him up and fed him, but he began to projectile vomit again.
She called her husband to come home from work and they called their family doctor, who was able to see them at 3 p.m.
“We took that because we figured if we went back to the ER with him, we would be waiting that long anyway,” said Carter.
At this point, Lynkin was barely awake, unable to lift his head or stand up.
“Lethargic isn’t the right word,” said Carter. “It was beyond that.”
The family doctor did not think Lynkin’s illness was stomach-related and Carter said she questioned why potential issues related to the shunt were not ruled out during the hospital visit the night before. The family doctor sent them back to the hospital with a requisition for an X-ray and blood work, plus a letter asking the hospital staff to rule out any shunt issues.
The X-rays— which had to be done twice because the first set were only of Lynkin’s head and not his belly where the shunt actually drains — did not reveal any problem. Neither did his blood work.
He was kept overnight and scheduled to have an MRI done Friday morning. The results came back later in the morning, but a doctor was required to read the report. The pediatrician working was leaving for the day and said another children’s doctor was en route from out of town and that doctor would determine if Lynkin would require further treatment in St. John’s.
“That was my first clue that maybe we might need to go to St. John’s,” said Carter, who went home to prepare for the possible trip.
Early Friday evening, the pediatrician who had been working earlier in the day contacted the Carters and said that, after reviewing the MRI and consulting with the neurosurgeon who had put Lynkin’s shunt in, that he did have more fluid on his brain. He would need to be immediately airlifted to the Janeway Children’s Hospital for surgery to relieve the pressure in his head.
Before she knew it, Carter was aboard an aircraft with her son, headed for St. John’s. Within an hour of arriving at the Janeway, Lynkin was in surgery.
By around 3:30 a.m. Saturday, Lynkin was recovering from the surgery, with his eyes wide open and smiling at his mom.
“He was like a normal child again,” she said. “All those hours in between were completely unnecessary. I don’t know why, when I took him there Wednesday, that they didn’t rule out the shunt.”
Before flying from Western Memorial, Carter said the pediatrician told her that anytime someone comes into outpatients with a child, they have the right to request to see a pediatrician. She said she was also told that any person with a ventriculoperitoneal shunt should have that ruled out as being a factor in their illness before anything else is considered.
“They didn’t do that,” said Carter. “The fact the pediatrician brought this up to me made me think that they, too, didn’t think things went as they should have in the ER.”
Carter called the medical services department of Western Health last Thursday to initially file a complaint about the nurse who allegedly didn’t have time to weigh Lynkin. The voicemail she left was not returned by the time she arrived home from St. John’s Monday evening.
She called again first thing Tuesday morning, this time with intentions of having a complaint that was much broader in scope. At the time of an interview with her Tuesday evening, Carter still had not heard back from Western Health.
Not out for retribution
Carter said she is not out for retribution, but wants parents of children to know they have a right to ask for a pediatrician when they bring their sick children to the hospital. She also thinks it is important for any mistakes, if they did happen in this case, to be addressed and assurances made that they don’t happen again.
“Maybe some people don’t know the protocol, maybe they don’t have enough information or maybe it’s because they are understaffed or government is down their throats about hours being worked or unnecessary tests being done,” said Carter. “Maybe it’s a Corner Brook hospital thing. I don’t know, but all of this adds up to something that is not OK.”
In an emailed response from Western Health’s communications director, the health authority said patients do have a right to ask for a care provider or specialist to be involved or consulted in their care.
“Patients make that request and decision in consultation with the attending physician responsible for their treatment and diagnosis,” said Heidi Staeben-Simmons in the email.
As for the protocol involving shunts, Western Health said, “decisions involving patient care are individual in nature and based on all the clinical information available. Registration and protocols for treatment are based on a patient's symptoms and diagnosis and are timely in nature.”
Western Health said it takes all issues brought forward by patients and their families seriously.
“We follow up with families and care providers to understand their feedback,” wrote Staeben-Simmons. “Every effort is made to respond in a timely manner. We are looking into why this didn't happen in this case but will work with the family on their concerns.”