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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 says.

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 Kimberly Quaid.

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