Doc­tors fail to pick up prob­lem


PA­TRICE WHE­LAN was shocked to find out a starfish sticker wedged in her 10-month-old’s throat had been there for two months.

She knew some­thing was wrong with her son Whiti but no doc­tor could dis­cover what the prob­lem was.

Whe­lan and part­ner Peter Piriniha thought Whiti was hav­ing an asthma attack when he started mak­ing gur­gling noises on Fe­bru­ary 2.

‘‘He fell over and started chok­ing. Then he threw up and went floppy. We called an am­bu­lance straight away,’’ the mother-of-three says.

The sticker went un­no­ticed by mul­ti­ple hos­pi­tals and a long list of doc­tors over two months.

Whe­lan, 26, is up­set it wasn’t de­tected by the first doc­tor who saw Whiti at North Shore Hos­pi­tal.

But the hos­pi­tal’s emer­gency depart­ment clin­i­cal direc­tor Dr Willem Land­man says Whiti was sta­ble, alert and happy when he was ad­mit­ted.

‘‘Waitem­ata Dis­trict Health Board stands by the qual­ity of the care pro­vided to Whiti,’’ Land­man says.

He says there were no signs of dis­tress, short­ness of breath, cough­ing or any other symptoms con­sis­tent with chok­ing on an ob­ject, and that neck and chest X-rays didn’t sug­gest an ob­struc­tion ei­ther.

‘‘Whiti was ob­served for three hours to en­sure he was safe to go home. This ob­ser­va­tion pe­riod was un­event­ful and he was even able to tol­er­ate clear liq­uids and yo­ghurt with ease.’’ But Whiti’s breath­ing got worse. Whe­lan says she vis­ited nu­mer­ous doc­tors and Whiti was given five lots of steroids, two lots of an­tibi­otics and peni­cillin.

‘‘And all for noth­ing,’’ she says.

‘‘He didn’t put on weight for those two months. Be­fore then it was a kilo­gram a month.’’

Whiti even­tu­ally saw a doc­tor at Star­ship Chil­dren’s Hos­pi­tal months af­ter the in­ci­dent, who placed a tube down his nose, lo­cated the sticker and op­er­ated on him im­me­di­ately.

‘‘If the am­bu­lance had taken us to Star­ship Hos­pi­tal, we would have been taken much more se­ri­ously,’’ she says.

Whiti is now 13 months old and is ‘‘ba­si­cally back to nor­mal’’.

In the mean­time his 8-year-old sis­ter isn’t al­lowed stick­ers for a while.

Whe­lan says her daugh­ter is ‘‘ab­so­lutely ob­sessed with stick­ers’’.

The young­ster felt ter­ri­ble when she found out her brother had swal­lowed one.

The cou­ple laid a com­plaint against North Shore Hos­pi­tal and ex­pect a re­sponse soon from the Health and Dis­abil­ity Com­mis­sioner.

The Health and Dis­abil­ity Com­mis­sioner told Fair­fax Me­dia they don’t dis­cuss in­di­vid­ual cases but will keep the com­plainant up to date with progress.

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