Dennis Quaid, Health Activist
Actor Dennis Quaid takes on medical errors – and life with twins.
The Quaid Twins’ Overdose continued...
The night the twins were given the incorrect dose, Kimberly recalls she had
a “premonition” something was wrong after she and Dennis returned from visiting
the hospitalized babies at Cedars-Sinai. Hospital staffers had assured them the
twins were recovering well from the staph infections and told the new parents
to go home. But, Kimberly says, she suddenly felt so anxious that Dennis called
the hospital. They were told everything was fine, the Quaids say, but when they
arrived at the hospital the next morning, they learned of the overdoses.
Kimberly’s gut feeling turned out to be true.
It was 41 hours of hell, Quaid recalls, from the first overdose until the
twins were stabilized. Ever since, the Quaids have been on a fact-finding
mission to discover why medical mistakes happen so frequently and what can be
done. Until his twins were subjected to the overdoses, the problem wasn’t on
his mind, Quaid says. “I’d always gone in and trusted the doctors, [thought]
that I was in a safe place and that everyone knew what they were doing. Since
then, I have found out that medical errors are all too common.”
Quaid on Prescription Errors
Quaid claims that Cedars-Sinai hospital personnel missed five crucial
checks, leading to the twins’ heparin overdose. Sadly, this isn’t unusual. In a
report issued by the federal Institute of Medicine in July 2006, the authors
estimate that at least one medication error occurs per day for every single
hospital patient in the United States. In an earlier report, issued in 1999,
the institute estimated that up to 98,000 people die in U.S. hospitals each
year as a result of preventable medical errors. As an initial step toward a
more active approach to minimizing errors, that report “was clearly the turning
point,” says David Bates, MD, professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School
and executive director of Brigham and Women’s Center of Excellence for Patient
Safety Research and Practice in Boston.
Heparin doses themselves aren’t that unusual. In September 2006, for
instance, six infants at Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis were given a high
level of heparin instead of the lower, correct dose, according to hospital
officials, and three died. In July of this year, 17 babies at a Texas hospital,
Christus Spohn Health System in Corpus Christi, were given overdoses of heparin
and two died, although hospital officials have not yet stated if the heparin
played a role in the deaths.
“Heparin is used to counteract the body’s normal clotting defenses, which
can cause problems after certain medical procedures,” explains Bates. But if
the dose is too high, bleeding can occur. How does heparin kill? “It is usually
bleeding in the brain that is fatal, although bleeding can occur anywhere,” he
Why the continued errors? Labeling for the lower dose Hep-Lock is similar,
some say, to the labeling for the stronger heparin doses. Baxter International,
the manufacturer, contended the labels on the two were distinguishable, but did
change the heparin labels, making the print size bigger, among other changes.
Part of the problem, too, may be simply the volume of heparin uses. According
to Baxter, heparin is used more than 100,000 times a day.
“I feel like we’re here for a reason, that this happened for a reason,” says