Family living in a “nightmare," mother says

Melissa Driscoll says her child is suffering brain damage as a result of negligent medical treatment

Teresa Wright
Published on August 31, 2012
Melissa Driscoll with her daughter Emma who suffers severe brain damage. Driscoll and her fiancé Danny Roche, pictured here holding Emma, are suing four ER doctors and the province for alleged negligent treatment of their daughter at the QEH in 2011.
Guardian photo

Every time Melissa Driscoll hears a child call out ‘Mommy,’ she is filled with sadness.

“It’s like hearing a ghost because that was Emma’s first word and she may never be able to say it again.”

Driscoll and her fiancée, Danny Roche, are suing four emergency room doctors from the QEH and the province for what they allege was negligent medical treatment of their daughter, Emma Roche, at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Charlottetown in early 2011.

None of the allegations have been proven in court.

But that didn’t stop Driscoll, Roche their lawyer Raymond Wagner from Halifax and family friend Martie Murphy from detailing their side of the story during a news conference Friday in Charlottetown.

About 80 friends and family attended the event. A large screen displayed photos and videos of a happy, healthy baby girl — images captured before she fell ill on Jan. 30, 2011 and was taken to the QEH.

Emma now has severe brain damage, has no ability to move on her own and can only eat through a feeding tube that has been surgically implanted into her stomach.

The statement of claim, filed June 27, alleges Emma was exposed to a sick child in January 2011. She was eight months old at the time.

Named in the lawsuit are Dr. Peter Noonan, Dr. Kate Ellis-Ghiz, Dr. Pauline Champion and Dr. Mitchell Zelman, the physicians who treated Roche during several visits to the hospital over a two-day period.

According to the statement of claim, after the child fell ill, Driscoll took her to the emergency room at the QEH. She was diagnosed with a fever and upper respiratory infection and the doctor on call told Driscoll to administer Advil and Tylenol and sent them home.

The next evening, Driscoll returned to the ER with Emma, as her cough and coarse breathing persisted.

Driscoll alleges the doctor on call on that night diagnosed Emma with influenza. The doctor requested a consult from the pediatrician on call, who later confirmed the influenza diagnosis. Emma was again discharged.

Less than two hours later, Driscoll returned to the hospital, claiming her daughter’s condition had worsened. The statement of claim says 40 minutes after that, Emma became pale and her lips turned blue. She was diagnosed by the doctor on call at this time with ‘severe croup’ and was administered a mask.

Her respiratory distress continued, however, and a few hours later her heart stopped. It took about 18 minutes to revive her, court documents claim.

She was airlifted to the IWK in Halifax. She was later diagnosed with severe and irreversible brain damage.

There was not a dry eye in the room as these allegations were relayed to media and the crowd of friends and family who attended the news conference Friday.

Driscoll, tears pouring down her face, described in detail how the family has since been left devastated.

“My family has been living a nightmare from which it seems we will never wake up,” she said.

“A part of my baby died on Feb. 1st, 2011 and a big part of me died as well.”

She described how simple joys most parents enjoy, like watching their children take their first steps or even simply enjoy an ice cream on a hot summer day no longer exist for their family.

Their lives are now regimented around a strict medication schedule to control things such as blood pressure, she said.

“She has lost the use of her arms and legs and has to struggle to hold her little head up for more than a minute or two. She is unable to eat anything by mouth and is given formula and medication through a feeding tube that has been surgically implanted in her small stomach,” Driscoll said through tears.

“Before Emma’s brain injury, she was a healthy, happy eight-month-old baby… She was crawling, speaking a few words and had even begun to pull herself up to stand. She made us smile every single day. Now even such things as living in a neighbourhood with other young children is a daily torture. To hear kids outside laughing and playing breaks my heart because my little girl will never know that sense of childhood happiness.”

Driscoll and Roche said they wanted to share their account of the events that occurred in order to raise awareness to other parents about their rights to question a doctor’s opinion when their children fall ill.

“As parents we are our children’s advocates. We are the ones who know in our gut when our children are really sick because we are with them every day,” Driscoll said.

“No family deserves to experience the kind of hurt and despair we have but if Emma’s story prevents even one child or one family from this type of experience, then maybe some good may yet come out of this tragic moment in our lives.”

In its statement of defence, the government said it provided a reasonable and appropriate level of care to Emma at all times. It also said any injuries Emma suffered were because of decisions, treatments and procedures explained to the parents, to which they consented.

It went further in saying any injuries were a result of the plaintiffs' negligence, including exposing Emma to a sick child and failing to take all precautions to prevent the spread of the illness to her.

Although the doctors haven't filed their defence yet, they have filed a notice of intent to defend, which gives them extra time.

None of the allegations have been proven in court.