Dad wants answers in daughter's death

February 12, 2009 3:36:26 PM PST
A father is blaming a New Jersey hospital for the death of his daughter. He says the doctor failed to conduct a simple test that could have saved her life. But the hospital faults the father. Both the hospital and the doctor are under investigation in the case.

The daughter was rushed to the emergency room with severe stomach pains, yet no tests were conducted to determine the cause. Thirty-six hours after being sent home, she was dead.

He seems the unlikely type to take on a hospital bureaucracy. But to underestimate Al Negro's love for his daughter would be a big mistake.

"I just keep thinking about how she died," he said. "What did she go through those last moments? Had it made a difference if I went to a different hospital?"

It's been nine months since Negro's mildly mentally challenged daughter Marie was rushed by ambulance to the emergency room at St. Mary's Hospital in Passaic. She was having excruciating stomach pains, noted in her medical records as a 10 out of 10, the highest possible pain.

Negro: "She had the highest reading of..."
Eyewitness News reporter Jim Hoffer: "Of pain?"
Negro: "Of pain."
Hoffer: "And they sent you home?"
Negro: "Yes."
Hoffer: "Did they do anything for her?"
Negro: "They did nothing, no blood work, no ultra sound, no CAT scan, no MRIs. She felt her stomach, said it was swollen and hard, but you can take her home, she has a stomach virus."

About 36 hours later, Marie was dead. The medical examiner determined her bowel was so twisted it blocked her blood flow and killed her.

"There's just so many unanswered questions that go through my mind," Negro said.

The hospital insists it followed all appropriate protocols with respect to Marie's care. In a statement to Eyewitness News, the hospital says, "The patient was seen in a timely manner and was discharged with proper follow-up instructions," which the hospital says were apparently not followed. Those instructions, according to the medical records, were to return if the problem arose again. Negro says he never got that chance.

"I asked her how she was feeling," Negro recalled. "She said a little sick and wanted to stay in bed and rest. I went down the following morning and found her dead. I don't think I failed in any way except to use St. Mary's Hospital."

Shortly after Eyewitness News began investigating, the New Jersey Department of Health conducted its own probe into St. Mary's. The state cited the hospital with eight violations, including failure to give the patient "urgent triage." Instead, Marie Negro was left in agonizing pain for "3 hours and 59 minutes" before being examined by a doctor who concluded she had "an unspecified abdominal pain" and sent her home.

Several emergency room doctors we spoke to say anyone who's rushed to the ER with severe stomach pains should undergo diagnostic tests.

"You could do some blood work, you can get a CAT scan or an ultrasound depending on what your history and physical tell you," said Dr. Anthony Ezenkwele, of NYU Medical Center.

Those tests could have revealed the source of Marie's pain, a bowel so twisted and coiled that it killed her.

"I've been trying to get some answers ever since," Negro said. "But just been getting the run around."

Nine months after his daughter's death, Negro is still trying to get his Marie's complete medical records. As for the violations, hospital officials say they resolved those issues.