During the same week in November 2016, four-year-old Damian Creed and five-year-old Salette Ruiz died from the same type of cancer at the same hospital while being treated by the same doctor.
Damian and Salette had an unusual and aggressive form of eye cancer known as retinoblastoma. This cancer usually appears in children under the age of 5. Both children were diagnosed at age 2. Even though the cancer is known for its aggressive nature, death from this disease is rare. According to the Miami Herald, less than five percent of children diagnosed with retinoblastoma die from it in the U.S.
Both Damian and Salette were being treated by Dr. Timothy Murray at Nicklaus Children’s Hospital in Miami. Murray is widely recognized as one of the leading experts in the treatment of retinoblastoma.
Since the cancer occurs in the eye, often doctors remove retinoblastoma patients’ eyes to prevent the cancer from spreading. For Damian and Salette, Murray did not immediately suggest removal of the eye, but instead ordered intra-arterial chemotherapy, a newer option for retinoblastoma patients. This treatment releases a high dose of medication to the affected eye. It is considered less toxic than other types of chemotherapy.
Eventually, Dr. Murray did remove Salette’s eye, and afterward, discovered cancer cells on the optic nerve. The doctor ultimately had to remove Damian’s eye as well. After a follow-up visit, his cancer was discovered to have spread through the optic nerve to the brain. When both Damian and Salette’s cancers metastasized, they were referred to Dr. Ziad Khatib, a neuro-oncologist at the hospital.
For the young patients, Khatib prescribed rounds of systemic chemotherapy, radiation, proton beam therapy, and a stem cell bone marrow transplant. These treatments were extremely painful for both children. Salette suffered from a perforated intestine, pancreatitis, pneumonia, and other ailments. While going through chemotherapy, Damien lost weight and his hair, suffered from fevers, and eventually developed sepsis, which is an infection in the blood.
Sadly, none of these treatments would save either child.
Both Damien and Salette’s parents maintain that Murray, Khatib, and the hospital failed to provide the standard medical treatment for retinoblastoma. They allege not removing the eyes sooner was negligent. They are suing for medical malpractice.
In medical malpractice cases, you need to prove the medical professional was negligent in providing care to the patient. One way to prove negligence is to show the health care worker did not perform what is considered the standard of care for that type of patient. To bring a medical malpractice claim against a hospital, the health care professional accused of malpractice must be an employee of that hospital, not an independent contractor.
A physician review seems to support both family’s claims. The review stated both Damian and Salette’s cases indicate not removing the eye was a deviation from the standard of care.