We don’t often think of it this way but a patient’s experience with disease is often the same, regardless of where they are. Consider, for example, the case of Tony Kavanagh in Ireland.
Tony Kavanagh today
Ten years ago at age 54 and with a management consultant career that saw him travel the globe, Tony developed a circulation problem that left him unable to walk any distance. After seeing his GP and a specialist he had “routine” surgery on the veins in his legs and was out of the hospital in just over a week, good as new … for 5 days.
Then the real trouble began: a burning sensation from head to toe that felt “like holding your hand over a naked flame.” His organs began to fail and he was rushed to emergency. Though he didn’t know it at the time, Tony was dying from an infection that was attacking all the vein grafts that were just put into his legs. And this caused his blood to stop circulating. The culprit was MRSA.
To get the blood to flow doctors constructed an artificial circulatory system. They opened him up from the top of his chest down to his feet. Plastic tubing was inserted just below his neck that came out both sides of his chest that carried the blood from his heart down the outside of his ribcage underneath the skin to his legs.
In Tony’s words, “The best way I could describe myself at that stage would be like a massive zipper – because I was opened from the top of the chest right down to my toes. I died at one point in the hospital, but they brought me back.”
And fortunately he is still with us. After 5 months in the hospital Tony was discharged – weighing all of 126 pounds and requiring a walker. However, his blood kept clotting which meant another operation and, as he puts it, “I spent the next two years of my life practically in the back of an ambulance. The last time I went up was New Year’s Eve 2005, and I honestly believed that time that I was going back to die.”
But he didn’t die, though in the early days of recovery he thought about taking his own life. He also had to learn how to walk again. Today his mobility isn’t great; after walking about 200 yards he has to stop, “So I’m back to being worse than I was in 2004, before I went into hospital.”
Tony had the kind of serious infection must of us never hear about. But each year in the United States there are over 80,000 such serious infections caused by MRSA alone, and each year over 11,000 of those people will die.
Arlene Wilgosh: “If these patients were our loved ones, would we still not wash our hands and take proper precautions?”
Tony Kavanagh has gone on to become an advocate for MRSA patients because, he says, national guidelines on infection control in the UK aren’t followed by hospitals and as a result people like him needlessly become very sick, changing their lives forever, or die. Unfortunately, the allegation of hospital negligence holds true here as well.
For example, at an infection control conference last month in Canada, Winnipeg Regional Health Authority CEO Arlene Wilgosh, to her credit, publicly admitted that hospitals have breached their duty of care to their patients because they don’t follow their own hygiene protocols.
She candidly asked the audience: “If these patients were our loved ones, would we still not wash our hands and take proper precautions?” Ms. Wilgosh also admits that the hospital infection issue “poses a … very significant risk to those we care for,” and therefore “Something new has to be done to address it.”
But until that something is done there will be over 80,000 Tony Kavanagh stories next year in the U.S. alone.