by Sorrel King
Ms. King's 18th month old daughter Josie died in her arms in 2001, as a result of preventable medical errors at one of the country's best hospitals. The resulting anger and grief-and feeling of impotency-- overwhelmed her; but, as inappropriate as it may sound to say this, she was lucky in one regard. The errors occurred at a hospital that quickly owned up to its errors and saved Ms. King and her family the lengthy and insulting legal ordeal that almost any other institution then (and unfortunately still today) would have required for the family to get answers and accountability.
In her book, written in 2009, she admits that she did in fact get "special treatment" (which seemed anything but special at the time) from Johns Hopkins in that they apologized, revealed the facts and errors and offered a settlement, which ended the legal process, all at a very early (by normal legal standards) date. She has now over the years heard from many, many people who have suffered egregious losses as the result of medical errors NEVER to have any apology, any explanation, any admission of wrongdoing and certainly no monetary settlement. And the years it takes in the medical-legal system for a victim's family to obtain these things--if they ever do-- so critical to closure of any kind are the cruelest years of one's life, trust me.
As a person who experienced the loss of both parents due to easily preventable caregiver errors, and who took years and hundreds of thousands of dollars to get the answers and ultimate accountability, I can attest that closure is hard to ever get. Similarly, despite the "advantages she had," Ms. King has had anything but an easy time moving on after Josie's death; but, for all our sakes, what a difference she has wrought trying to bring good things out of her tragic loss. Not unlike the reasons for the founding of 4OurElders, Ms. King has successfully sought to use her tragedy, Josie's Story, to accomplish incredible things in healthcare around the country.
Ms. Sorrel has helped increase the focus on transparency and accountability when unexpected medical events occur so as to help make bad outcomes avoidable in the future. She has worked tirelessly and sacrificially to help bring a bright focus on the problems of (mis)communication among healthcare professionals and the medical culture that has for far too many years done little or nothing to remedy the root causes of medical miscommunications that cost everyone involved-patients and their loved ones AND the medical staffs and professionals involved-so much.
See her website: www.josieking.org
Far too often, these miscommunications and the culture in which they occur lead to medical errors, which lead to terrible outcomes for hundreds of thousands of patients and the additional hundreds of thousands of love ones who are left to try to "pick up the pieces" after such tragedies. Because of Ms. King's efforts and achievements, MILLIONS of future patients and their families will avoid similar fates. There is another group, one that includes my wife and two daughters-in-law, which owes Ms. Sorrel a huge debt of gratitude for helping to reduce medical errors and bad outcomes--the countless healthcare professionals throughout the world who will be spared the attendant grief, fear, pain, loss and impotency that comes upon them when they are part of medical errors and preventable bad outcomes.
What an incredible difference one little girl's unnecessary death has made for so many others as a result of her loving Mother's determination to make that inexplicable death "right" in the only possible way that made sense for her! And, Ms. Sorrel works on-in fact, I get to see her live in a few weeks as she brings her message of medical safety to medical professionals throughout the University of Arkansas Medical Sciences system as she speaks from to them from Little Rock. Can't wait!
The Book is hard but highly recommended. Additionally, Ms. King has a number of helpful resources for those interested in helping to improve healthcare in this country along with several very good recommendations for helpful reading. These books include: Crossing the Quality Chasm: A New Health System for the 21st Century and To Err is Human, both by the Institute of Medicine, to name just two.
For a couple of medical error stories from healthcare professionals themselves, see Dr. Jonathan R Welch's, an Emergency Room physician, story about losing his mother to medical errors. You can also read the of stories from two RNs, Tammy Haithcox an 18 year nursing veteran, and Elissa Barpal, a 35 year nursing veteran, who reacted to Dr. Welch's experience by recounting their own stories. While there is a growing chorus of healthcare professionals around the country speaking out on the need to change the so-called medical code of silence, and to bring transparency and accountability to medical care, far too many healthcare professionals have to have a tragedy of their own before they "get on board" about making healthcare safer for us all. (See Flannery O'Conner's short story A Good Man is Hard to Find.)