Windsor Child's Death Another Blow to City

The grieving family of a Grade 3 student wants to know why their 8-year-old daughter died soon after arriving at a Windsor emergency room with flu-like symptoms.

Destiny Sammut's death is the latest in a series of medical tragedies to befall the city. Last month, the province launched an investigation after it was revealed two women suffered mistaken mastectomies at Hotel-Dieu Grace Hospital. And 3,000 pathology tests are under review after a smaller review at the same hospital unearthed seven cases of concern.

Sammut, a previously healthy, dark-eyed girl with long curly hair and a wide smile, was brought by ambulance to the Windsor Regional Hospitals emergency room on Feb. 7. She had a high fever, was so weak she couldn't walk and troubles breathing.

Two hours later she was dead.

The Sammut family is not accusing the hospital of negligence or any wrongdoing, said Windsor lawyer Greg Monforton. "The family hasn't consulted me because they want to sue somebody," he said in an interview. "They want answers. They were told by officials from the hospital that they are there to help them and give them answers, yet they are not doing that."

Cases like Destiny's are rarely seen but they do happen, said Dr. Gary Ing, chief of staff at Windsor Regional. In response to the tragedy the hospital conducted an internal and external review. Both concluded "the quality of care met an appropriate standard and that no changes in medical or nursing care would have materially affected the outcome of the case," the hospital said in a statement to the Star.

The Ontario coroners office is also probing her death.

"Sometimes we are at a loss as to why this happens," said Ing. "But from a hospital point of view I think we carried out our professional duties very diligently."

Last month, the Windsor area was shocked to find out through the media that two women had unnecessary mastectomies at the Hotel-Dieu Grace Hospital. On Thursday, the hospital announced it is restoring the operating privileges of Dr. Barbara Heartwell, the surgeon who performed both mastectomies. She is still under investigation by the college of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario. Pathologist Dr. Olive Williams is also under investigation by the college.

The Star revealed in late February Windsor Regional patient Justin DeRoy was diagnosed with cancer, funicular lymphoma, and given 10 years to live only to be told weeks after his surgery that he actually didn't have the disease. To his surprise, DeRoy was told his pathology test was repeated in Toronto. The lab confirmed he did not have cancer.

Destiny had already been to Windsor Regional's emergency room two days before her death suffering from a high fever of 104 C and dehydration. She was sent home after receiving fluids and medication for fever.

But her mother Jennifer Sammut called for an ambulance on Feb. 7 because Destiny was weak and her breathing erratic. "After a nurse saw her, they took blood, they started giving her antibiotics and they took an x-ray," she recalled. "I started to panic, really panic."

Doctors told Sammut they needed to put a tube down Destiny's throat to help her breathe. "There was a complication," said Sammut, a single mother of three other young children. "She aspirated. She stopped breathing and her heart stopped."

The medical team were able to revive Sammut's heart but not for long. She died two hours after arriving at Windsor Regional.

The Sammut family say doctors told them Destiny suffered from meningitis, a fast moving potentially fatal infection that causes inflammation of the lining around the brain and spinal cord. The childs death prompted local media to report on the possibility of a potential meningitis outbreak; one health officials denied as Destiny only remained in close contact with family members before she died.

However, at the time of Destiny's funeral, Sammut said health officials contacted them to say Destiny died of group A Streptococcus infection, a serious respiratory infection and pneumonia.

After what the family describes as an unproductive meeting with hospital officials on March 3, Sammut retained Monforton. "They wouldn't answer any of our questions, not one," she said.

Monforton asked for Sammut's complete medical file in a letter to the hospital on March 5. On Friday, they received some of the records.

Confused and angry, Jennifer Sammut just wants a straight answer as to why her daughter died. "You trust your doctors," said Sammut. "How do I trust the hospital with the other children if I don't feel they treated my daughter the way they should have? I want to know if everything was done that should have been."

There is a medical chill hanging over Windsor.

Health Minister Deb Matthews said a far-ranging investigation into the treatment of patients and quality of care at three Windsor-area hospitals Hotel Dieu, the Windsor Regional and Leamington hospitals and a review of the pathology reports in 3,000 cases is ongoing. The probe is being led by Dr. Barry McLellan, president of Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre and the provinces former chief coroner. His report is due in June.

The citizens of Windsor are "obviously concerned," said Monforton, who represented the family of nurse Lori Dupont. She was murdered at the Hotel-Dieu by her former lover Dr. Marc Daniel in 2005.

"The vast majority of physicians and other health providers in this city are excellent at their work," said Monforton. "It is not fair to treat this as an indictment of care in this city. That said we've had far more than our fair share of disturbing circumstances coming to light."

Even Dr. Gary Ing has to agree the current medical situation in Windsor is "unusual."

"Ive been here for over 30 years. This is an unusual chain of events."