Hayley Seymour’s son was only six days old when he had open-heart surgery at Seattle Children’s hospital on Oct. 1. A month later, he was fighting for his life as mold infected his heart.
The venerated hospital has been struggling to contain Aspergillus mold for nearly two decades. On Monday, the Seymours became the latest family to file a lawsuit over it.
The baby’s procedure didn’t have to happen right away, Seymour said, and it didn’t have to happen at Children’s. If the family had known about the history of mold at the hospital, they wouldn’t have had his initial surgery there, she said. But, according to their negligence suit, no one from Children’s told them about that history.
In the spring of 2019, Children’s closed its operating rooms after a spate of Aspergillus infections it attributed to small gaps in the walls of operating rooms and in the array of air filters that serve them. After ORs began reopening July 4, air testing didn’t detect the mold. The hospital’s chief medical officer said at the time that the risk to patients was “incredibly low.”
The monitoring the hospital had been doing since then went beyond what’s required by law, but according to an investigation by the state’s Department of Health (DOH), that monitoring still failed to detect Aspergillus in the hospital’s operating rooms for more than a month after the Seymour baby’s Oct. 1 surgery.
The health department’s investigation showed that the hospital’s infection-prevention department wanted to restrict high-risk surgeries to operating rooms with high-efficiency particulate air – or HEPA – filters. In September, the chief medical officer and chief surgeon decided to open other operating rooms to heart cases, the report shows, with the chief executive agreeing. That decision was based on negative air samples, statistical analysis and space and staffing considerations that could affect patient safety, according to the report.
The report says operating room No. 11, where the Seymour baby had his procedure, did not have a HEPA filter.
The state report cited a baby infected after open-heart surgery, but it didn’t name him. Seymour and her lawyer, Sim Osborn, identified the baby as the Seymours’.
On Halloween, 12 days after Seymour’s son came home from Children’s, his oxygen dropped and she brought him to Madigan Army Medical Center. Six days later, he was transferred to Seattle Children’s, where he had another surgery.
A blood test Nov. 7 showed that the mold had infected the baby’s original surgical site. That day, hospital staff collected air samples, and the results came back positive for Aspergillus three days later, DOH found. Children’s then, once again, closed its ORs.
DOH spent portions of six days at Children’s in November and December and didn’t cite the hospital for any violations.
When asked about the Seymours’ lawsuit, filed Monday in King County Superior Court, Seattle Children’s referred to a page on its website explaining what has been done to address the Aspergillus problem.
The hospital’s troubles with the mold date back to 2001. Children’s officials have confirmed 14 Aspergillus infections – including six patient deaths – since then, citing problems with the air-filtration system serving its operating rooms.
A lawsuit filed in December in King County Superior Court on behalf of four children or their estates, seeks class-action status for patients who were sickened by Aspergillus at Children’s between 2005 and 2017. A fifth patient was added to that complaint in January.
The Seymours’ baby is still being treated at Children’s. But now, amid a coronavirus pandemic, only one family member at a time is allowed to be with him at the hospital. So they can more easily take turns, the Seymour family has moved from their home in Roy to an apartment near Children’s.
The baby has had respiratory and heart failure and is in need of another surgery. He could be in the hospital past his first birthday in September, Seymour said.
“No one at the hospital can tell me when he will leave and be with his family,” Seymour said Tuesday, “and that is utterly heartbreaking to deal with as a mother.”
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