TAMPA — A 6-year-old girl undergoing treatment for Stage IV neuroblastoma, a rare form of cancer, died on Feb. 6, 2009. But her mom claims hospital mistakes, not cancer, led to Jessica Rose Kohut's death.
Maureen Massari recently filed suit against All Children's Specialty Care of Tampa, two doctors and a physician's assistant, alleging that her daughter was given bacteria-infected platelets in a transfusion that was supposed to be routine.
"She skipped into the clinic with her doll and then was helicoptered out with multiple IVs," said Marjorie Chalfant, Massari's attorney.
All Children's Hospital says that it received contaminated platelets from Florida Blood Services.
The blood bank, which was not named in the lawsuit, reached a settlement with Jessica's family, said Tom Kurella, Florida Blood Services executive vice president. The terms were not made public.
The platelets may or may not have been contaminated when they left Florida Blood Services, said Dr. German Leparc, chief medical officer, noting that blood is tested for harmful bacteria before it is released for use.
"It could be that the test missed it — or it could be that it was handled improperly and the unit was contaminated prior to the transfusion," he said.
Though the tests were correctly performed, they have "technical limitations," he said.
The most thorough of blood banks can have difficulty ruling out bacteria, given the limited sensitivity of tests available, according to James AuBuchon, a transfusion expert who is president and chief executive of Seattle's Puget Sound Blood Center.
Platelets typically are stored at room temperature and are the part of blood most susceptible to contamination, according to Abba Zubair, medical director for transfusion medicine at the Mayo Clinic.
Some hospitals retest blood for bacteria before giving it to patients, experts say.
Cindy Rose, a spokesman for All Children's Hospital, declined to provide the hospital's procedures for handling platelets, citing the topic's relevance to current litigation.
The St. Petersburg-based hospital operates clinics throughout the region. Jessica visited All Children's Hospital Specialty Care of Tampa, an outpatient facility near the University of South Florida.
The lawsuits alleges that she received platelets on Jan. 27, 2009, that were contaminated with streptococcus viridans.
"It would be dangerous for everybody and it would be much worse for somebody with cancer who is likely to be imunodepressed," said Zubair, the Mayo expert.
The day before Jessica's transfusion, a 17-year-old boy at the same clinic got platelets from the same donor and suffered "obvious rigors, severe shaking and chills," according to the suit.
In both cases, physicians failed to suspect that the platelets had been contaminated, according the suit.
"The whole problem would have been avoided had they done the proper workup on the 17-year-old the day before," Chalfant said.
The suit did not name the teen. The hospital declined to identify him or discuss his condition, citing patient confidentiality laws.
All Children's plans to defend itself and denies responsibility for Jessica's death.
"The event, services, and processes were thoroughly evaluated. We concluded that the event was not preventable at the time," said Rose, the spokeswoman. "We continue to express our sympathy and condolences to Jessica's family over the loss of their child."
After her transfusion at the Tampa clinic, Jessica was taken by ambulance to University Community Hospital and then flown to All Children' Hospital in St. Petersburg, where Dr. Kelly Sawczyn began treating Jessica with antibiotics, the suit states. She died 10 days later.
Chalfant said that while she expects the hospital will argue that Jessica would not have had a long life expectancy, experts tell her the girl could have lived for about 10 more years.
In a phone conversation, Massari said her lawsuit was about holding those accountable responsible. "I want to do the right thing," she said.
Sawczyn, Dr. Jody Kerr and physician assistant Charles Hauk have been named as defendants in the suit.
Sawczyn declined to comment and directed inquiries to hospital spokeswoman Rose. Neither Kerr nor Hauk responded to requests for comment.
In addition to All Children's Hospital and All Children's Specialty Care of Tampa, All Children's Health Systems, Pediatric Physician Services, and All Children Specialty Physicians are listed as defendants in the lawsuit.
Eric P. Newcomer can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3401.