Baby dies after contracting mould infection in hospital

Photo:Facebook/ Beth's HLHS Journey
Photo:Facebook/ Beth's HLHS Journey 

A five-month-old baby who was born with a congenital heart defect has died after reportedly contracting a mould infection while in hospital.

Beth Hutt's mother, Katie Hutt, shared on Facebook that her daughter "gained her wings" on Wednesday at Seattle Children's Hospital after battling an Aspergillus infection. 

"Late last night, Beth told us she was ready,"  Ms Hutt wrote. "I cannot begin to express the gratitude we have for the team that worked through the night to make sure Beth's transition was as painless and smooth as possible."

The little girl, who was born in August with a heart condition known as Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome, or HLHS, underwent the first of three surgeries when she was just five days old. An inpatient since her birth, Beth contracted an infection in her heart from Aspergillus mould, the latest in a series of cases reported by the hospital.

According to the Centre for Disease Control, Aspergillosis is an infection caused by Aspergillus, a common mould (a type of fungus) that lives indoors and outdoors. "Most people breathe in Aspergillus spores every day without getting sick," the CDC notes. "However, people with weakened immune systems or lung diseases are at a higher risk of developing health problems due to Aspergillus."

Late last year, the presence of the fungus Aspergillus forced the closing of 11 operating rooms at Seattle Children's Hospital.

"On November 10, routine air test results revealed the presence of Aspergillus in the air in three of our operating rooms and two procedural areas," hospital spokeswoman Kathryn Mueller said at the times. "The rooms in which Aspergillus was detected have been closed. We are also investigating two new potential Aspergillus surgical site infections."

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In an news conference in December 2019, Seattle Children's Hospital CEO Dr. Jeff Sperring, confirmed that since 2001,14 patients had been sickened by Aspergillus and six had died. Dr Sperring also noted that the hospital had failed to link the infections and the air-handling units in its operating rooms.

"Looking back, we should have made the connection sooner," he said. "Simply put, we failed."

A statement on their website notes that the hospital decided to proceed with immediate installation of custom in-room HEPA filtration in 10 operating rooms and two equipment storage rooms. "HEPA is an extremely effective filtration system that removes more than 99 per cent of particles from the air passing through the filter. Installing in-room HEPA filtration requires custom-building a system for each OR and we know it's the right thing to do for our patients and families," they wrote.

An update on 5 February, just a week before Beth died, reads: "After completing the latest phase in the commissioning of the new air handling system, we reopened three of the operating rooms that already have HEPA filtration and one procedure room. The construction and installation of the HEPA filters in the rest of our operating rooms is continuing and those rooms remain closed until this work is completed. We will not start scheduling non-urgent surgeries until we have a full go-live date so that we can do everything we can to honour the schedule dates we give to our patients and their families."

In a statement provided to The Seattle Times following Beth's passing, Seattle Children's Hospital said: "We are working diligently to resolve these issues, including the claims that have been brought against Seattle Children's related to past surgical site infections. We are incredibly sorry for the impact this situation has had on our patients and families."

Ms Hutt and her husband Micah, previously told The Seattle Times that while they were aware of the issues at the hospital, it was a "no-brainer" to take their baby there.

"We went into this situation believing that an issue had been found and it was fixed," Ms Hutt said.

In December, a class action complaint was filed against Seattle Children's on behalf of four former patients, three of whom died after contracting an infection while at the hospital.

"We're looking at maintenance of premise and we're looking at management decisions. And what happened here -- that even the doctors and nurses weren't aware of," Karen Koehler, of the SKKM Law Office said in a press conference at the time "So this action is really targeted against the management -- the building and engineering department of Seattle Children's -- about a systemic cover-up that's existed now for almost 19 years."

Prior to Beth, the youngest patient to have died was Logan Shaffer who was born in February 2005 with only half a heart. But after undergoing successful surgery at Seattle Children's, doctors later discovered that he suffered a heart aneurysm caused by an Aspergillus infection. Logan died on March 28, 2005. 

Lawyers have since sought to add Beth to the case.

On Facebook, Beth's grieving parents shared that they are currently making plans to celebrate their "brave, courageous, beautiful warrior. "Please understand that we likely won't be responding to messages or calls while we figure out what "life after" looks like", they wrote.