With more recent horrifying headlines about heparin drug errors harming children — and even tragically taking the lives of two babies at a Texas hospital — WebMD recently sat down with Dennis and Kimberly Quaid.
How are their 10-month-old twins, Thomas Boone and Zoë Grace, doing today, now that almost a year has passed since the 11-day-olds were twice given a potentially lethal dose of the blood thinner? What worries the actor and his wife most about their future health? And what successes and challenges have the Quaids encountered in their high-profile national crusade to prevent the surprisingly common problem of medical errors every day in hospitals — so that other parents don’t have to go through the nightmare they faced last November?
WebMD’s Exclusive Interview
WebMD was invited by Dennis, 54, and Kimberly, 36, to their sunny, art-filled home in Los Angeles, just off busy Sunset Boulevard. Dennis is a veteran of more than 50 movies -- highlights include The Big Easy, Breaking Away, Great Balls of Fire!, and the recent Vantage Point. He has a role in this fall’s The Express, releasing Oct. 3. Quaid plays the coach of college football great Ernie Davis, who was the first black winner of the prestigious Heisman Trophy but was diagnosed with leukemia before he had a chance to play in the pros.
But he is, at this moment at least, clearly off duty, enjoying his real-life role as doting dad. Dennis hoists his chubby-cheeked T. Boone into the air and the infant lets out a whoop of joy.
Nearby, on the sofa, Zoë sits on her mother’s lap, her eyes as summer-sky blue as her brother’s. Kimberly Quaid, 36, a slender cool-blond with kind eyes, proudly reports that Zoë’s already a girly girl, even at eight months. The contrast between this happy, lazy summer Monday afternoon and the frightening, sleepless weeks the Quaids endured after the babies were born in November 2007 is like day and night.
Q: How are the twins doing today?
Both T. Boone and Zoë have met all their developmental milestones, the Quaids say. That's a relief for any parent, but particularly after the overdose catastrophe.
Watching them, though, both Dennis and Kimberly admit to a nagging worry that any parent would share: Are the kids really OK? “No one knows the long-term effect of the dose they received,” Dennis notes grimly. The twins got roughly 1,000 times the recommended dose of heparin when they were hospitalized for staph infections last November at Cedars Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.
"There's a real problem going on and it needs to be addressed," says Quaid. After their experience with the twins, and their research on statistics, they know medical mistakes are a scary, all-too-frequent occurrence.
Q: What surprising fact have they discovered about medical errors?
They’re shockingly common, Dennis and Kimberly Quaid have find out through their research. As in: daily. Medication errors happen on average once a day to a patient in the hospital, and that does not count surgical errors -- such as operating on the wrong limb. Up to 98,000 people a year die in U.S. hospitals as a result of medical errors.
Which is why he’s no longer just Dennis Quaid, actor, husband, father. He’s added ‘’health activist” to that list, and he takes his new role seriously.
Q: How are Dennis and Kimberly tackling the daunting challenge of helping change the U.S. medical system?
Shortly after the twins were released from the hospital last year, they set up The Quaid Foundation, dedicated to reducing medical mistakes. Dennis testified before Congress in May, voicing his strong opposition to the concept of preemption for pharmaceutical companies.
Opponents of applying preemption to pharmaceutical companies say it will undermine a patient's ability to sue if harmed by a drug; proponents say the possibilities of lawsuits after a prescription medication has been approved stifle innovation and say preemption won't deny patients legal redress.
A court case, Wyeth v. Levine, due to be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court this fall, will rule on that concept of preemption and whether it holds true for pharmaceutical companies.
The overdose incident was equally life-changing for Kimberly, a former real estate agent who’s been married to Dennis since 2004. As upsetting as it all was, and she still wells up when she talks about it, “I feel like we’re here for a reason, that this happened for a reason.”
That reason? Nothing less than to change the way health care is practiced in the United States so help prevent medical errors.
Q: What do they and their Quaid Foundation advocate as the solution to helping prevent medical errors?
Both Dennis and Kimberly have done their research, combing through medical journals and statistical reports and visiting model programs striving to fundamentally address the problem by stopping errors at the source.
They both flew to Texas in July to tour Children’s Medical Center Dallas, which is launching a new bar coding system. The couple personally observed the system of built-in checks as they followed the process of ordering a drug through administering it to a patient, Dennis tells WebMD.
Bar coding is one of two systems most often cited by safety experts as key ways to reduce medical errors. The second is computerized physician-order entry systems. Put simply, bar coding involves a healthcare worker’s going through a series of checks before giving a patient a drug—scanning his own bar-coded badge, the patient’s bar-coded wristband, and the medication bar code, then pulling up the patient’s computerized medical record to be sure it’s the right drug, right dose, and correct time to give it. If there is a conflict, the computer sends an error message.
Only about 13% of the nation’s hospitals have a fully implemented bar code medication administration technology, according to the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists, but more are moving toward it.
“The nurses there told me they resisted it at first. But now, they say they wouldn’t want to give a medication to a patient without using the new system.” Besides the general resistance many people have to new technology, some nurses cite the extra time needed to scan medications but then see that the added effort pays off in reduced risk of error.
Patient safety advocates applaud the Quaids’ involvement. The actor brings “a face to the issue” and higher visibility to the problem, says Diane Pinakiewicz, president of the National Patient Safety Foundation, which advocates bar coding and other measures. “The more awareness we raise, the more engagement we’ll get from patients, regulators, and policymakers.”
At the end of the at-times emotional hour and a half interview, as T. Boone and Zoë wake from their nap, Dennis flashes that famous grin. He adds a dose of down-home perspective that reflects the couple's shared Texas roots.
“It made the media because I am in the movies, but a lot of people responded. Because of how fragile [the twins] were, a lot of people really got it,” Dennis says. “I think maybe people felt if it happened to a family like ours, it could happen to anyone.
“These kids are going to change the world,” he is fond of saying. And if his movie-star status is what it takes to make hospitals and health care safer, he’ll work it for all it’s worth.
“If celebrity is good for anything,’’ says Dennis, “this is what it’s good for, you know?”
(Adapted from WebMD the Magazine's September/October 2008 issue. Read the complete story here.)