I have written previously about death by indifference in a previous post, check that out here but if you don’t want to read it in full here is a little summary.
It details the deaths of 6 people who had special needs and how failures in the care system surrounding vulnerable patients (particularly non verbal one) lead to their early deaths.
Today I want to talk about Betty Wattenbarger and Coco Rose Bradford, two very young girls with autism who sadly died after seeking medical treatment.
Coco was 6 years old was admitted to The Royal Cornwall Hospital in summer 2017 with stomach problems, It shouldn’t have had any effect on the treatment she received but Coco was autistic. She was vomiting, had bloody loose stools and couldn’t take in any fluids. A quick look on WebMD and it tells me that fluids are most definitely needed based on the symptoms, no matter the cause.
It also to me (no medical training at all) seems like common sense but this didn’t happen, she was sent home only to be brought back to hospital the following day despite the hospital staff telling her parents she was ok. The staff missed several opportunities over the course of 8 days to establish what was wrong with her and save little Coco’s life, but they didn’t.
After Coco died it was discovered she had an E-Coli infection and Haemolytic uremic syndrome, the doctors and staff on duty said they found Coco uncooperative and non-compliant when questioned about the little girl’s death. As a child I was terrified of hospitals, doctors, needles and would fight my mom if she tried to give me medicine or clean a wound (this is why I had a piece of glass stuck in my knee for over a year 😳) imagine being autistic and having those feeling plus a million more running around in your head without been able to tell anyone what is wrong. Just like most parents of autistic children Coco’s parents knew something was not right and spoke on her behalf imploring the hospital staff to help her but it fell on deaf ears. The NHS has admitted key failures in Coco’s care following a report.
Sadly Bettys story is very similar, she was 7 years old, she had autism and was nonverbal, in 2019 she was struck by a fever in which was severe enough for her parents to seek emergency medical treatment in which they were advised by a nurse practitioner that it was just the flu and sent home with pain relief. No testing was carried out despite her father displaying concerns about her breathing. Sadly, she died the following day. He dad described the moment she was gone as the light leaving is house.
Her family believe that had it not been for a misdiagnosis she would still be alive today, if they had seen a doctor she would be alive today and if she had been able to tell them how much pain she was in the she would have received the correct level of care and not have died. The Texas medical board have refused to confirm if they are carrying out an investigation.
I speak from experience that when your child cant tell you what is wrong it can be difficult but you learn to know your child like no other and the thought of those that are supposed to help them refuse to listen is terrifying. We are naturally protective over our children but what if no one listens? What power do we have to get those that should be helping to listen to us? It is a terrifying thought. These deaths are becoming more and more frequent. Is it death by indifference? Or death by ignorance? How can a 6-year-old not be treated because she was uncooperative? What 6-year-old on this planet is happy to be poked and prodded by strangers when poorly?
We need to keep talking about Autism. We need to educate teachers, doctors, and nurses. We need to normalize it. It is not a taboo subject, 1 in every 100 people in the UK is diagnosed as autistic. It is not uncommon. Why aren’t we teaching about it in schools?
I work in an office (pre Covid) and often have to have to catch up on new systems and safety procedures so why aren’t medical professionals being made to educate themselves on developments in diagnosis’?