Published Tuesday December 2,
What killed Bellevue woman? Family says E. coli
BY RICK RUGGLES
WORLD-HERALD STAFF WRITER
Source of Article: http://www.omaha.com/index.php?u_page=2798&u_sid=10502762
woman and her husband say her mother's death should warn hospitals and
doctors that bloody diarrhea can be a sign of deadly E. coli.
Ruby Trautz died in August 2006 during a
large, nationwide E. coli outbreak involving tainted spinach.
Her daughter and son-in-law, Polly and Ken Costello, have sued Creighton University
Creighton University and Creighton physicians,
saying they misdiagnosed Trautz's case.
Although the suit calls for financial damages, the Costellos
say what they really want is for Creighton to establish a protocol in which a
patient showing bloody diarrhea automatically is tested for E. coli.
They also want a Creighton physician to change the death certificate, which
currently says Trautz died of a bacterial infection
called clostridium difficile. Federal and state
officials include Trautz, 81, among those afflicted
in the E. coli outbreak.
"I don't think we're asking for a lot, but we're also pretty
inflexible," Ken Costello said.
The Costellos say they might drop the suit if their
demands are met. They also want Creighton to create an educational video
about the importance of E. coli testing.
The university said through a written statement that it is "vigorously
defending" itself and that the case is without merit. Hospital
representatives, also through a written statement, said they had reviewed the
case extensively and found the Costellos' case
devoid of merit.
It is not
clear whether other area hospitals automatically test for E. coli when a
patient arrives suffering from bloody diarrhea. Nebraska Medical Center
and Alegent representatives declined to discuss the
matter because it pertained to a lawsuit.
But Dr. Bret Nicks, an emergency room physician and a spokesman for the
American College of Emergency Physicians, said such testing is not the
"standard of care," or typical, prudent practice.
There are too many other conditions that can cause such a symptom, Nicks
said. He is an emergency room physician at Wake
Center in North Carolina.
The Costellos said they have talked with the
Creighton doctor who signed the death certificate, but he has refused to
change his finding. Creighton lab tests did find that Trautz
had clostridium difficile, which Dr. Dan Schuller listed as the cause of death.
The Costellos say it galls them that Schuller won't change the death certificate even though
the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Nebraska's state epidemiologist, Dr. Tom Safranek, counted Trautz among
those sickened by the bad spinach.
Safranek said he was certain that Trautz was afflicted by the spinach. Spinach in the Costellos' refrigerator was tested and showed the
identical genetic fingerprint for E. coli as the E. coli in the outbreak. Trautz lived with the Costellos.
Safranek said that if a patient in the emergency
room has abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting and bloody diarrhea, it would be
reasonable to test that patient for E. coli. Trautz
had those symptoms.
The Costellos also have no doubt that Trautz died of E. coli 0157:H7 from some of that spinach,
which they had eaten in salads in August 2006. That form of E. coli is a
strain of bacteria that can infect people through food or beverages
contaminated by animal manure acquired in the field.
Ken Costello said he was sickened by the spinach, too, although it was days
after Trautz's death that news emerged of the
outbreak and the Costellos made the connection.
No test results for E. coli were completed on Trautz
at Creighton, according to the lawsuit.
Ultimately, several people nationwide died from the tainted spinach and more
than 200 became ill in 26 states.
The Costellos said they decided to sue after they
were frustrated by a couple of meetings and an exchange of letters with Creighton Medical Center
and university representatives.
Ken Costello said he also had a phone conversation with a university
attorney. Letters from the university and the hospital show sympathy but
don't say changes will be made.
The Costellos said they envisioned Creighton
creating a video about E. coli testing and diagnosis. The video would be
similar to one Methodist Hospital of Omaha created when a young man died
there after his aortic dissection, or tear in the lining of the aorta, was
Methodist Hospital now makes the video available
nationwide for no charge to health practitioners who seek insight or
continuing education credit.
Attorney Van Schroeder, who represents the Costellos,
said that in a Nebraska
medical malpractice case, the only reward, or "remedy," is
"They would prefer to have Mrs. Trautz's
legacy be one of learning," Schroeder said.
The Costellos and some other families settled out
of court with the California
Ken Costello said he would like to meet with top administrators at Creighton
and resolve the matter.
"They just haven't told us anything," he said. "The only way
things change is when somebody gets sued."