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Doctors diagnose 12-old-boy's fatal infection as 'upset stomach'

Just hours after receiving a benign medical diagnosis, no parent wants to hear that their child is actually dying. A doctor's failure to diagnose sepsis, a blood infection, led to a young boy's tragic death. Now, the boy's loved ones are seeking answers -- and justice.

Only two days before receiving news that her son was fighting for his life, one mother took her son to the doctor because he had a high temperature, had vomited and was complaining of a sore leg. The doctor diagnosed the 12-year-old boy's problem as a stomach ache caused by dehydration and sent him to a nearby hospital to receive intravenous fluids and anti-nausea medication.

Not long after he was sent home from the hospital, the boy's fever spiked and he was writhing in pain. His parents brought him back to the hospital, where they received the grim prognosis. Their worst nightmare was coming true.

The cause of the blood infection was a cut the boy received on his arm during gym class three days before his passing. Later on, another doctor looked at the boy's medical records and determined that his vital signs showed the classic signs of sepsis. In addition to the fever and limb pain, the boy's skin was "mottled" around his cut, which is often a sign of infection. Doctors failed to properly assess critical information that was gathered at the time the boy first visited the hospital.

Though the boy's family is obviously going through a lot of pain, they will always remember him for his mature insights into history and international relations.

Sepsis is actually a leading cause of death in hospitals, and the hospital where the boy received treatment for dehydration is currently engaged in a campaign to reduce the number of sepsis-related deaths within the facility.

This is another case where doctors failed to put together medical information that was right in front of them. Based on the evidence they had, sepsis should've been high on their radar; instead, they dismissed his symptoms as a common childhood ailment.

Thankfully, the family is exploring their legal options and is considering a civil suit. Hopefully their decision to seek justice for their son's death will be what is necessary for doctors in North Carolina and across the country to take the time necessary to make reliable, accurate diagnoses.

Source: The New York Times, "An Infection, Unnoticed, Turns Unstoppable," Jim Dwyer, July 11, 2012

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