Neveah Hernandez, 6, was sent home with a 104-degree fever, an attorney says. He said the parents hope to raise awareness of ER practices.
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HOBOKEN, NJ — The parents of a 6-year-old girl who died from the flu in 2018 after the emergency room at Hoboken University Medical Center allegedly sent her home with a high fever are suing the facility and several doctors there.
The family is also suing the girl's two pediatricians, whom they said neglected to give her a flu shot, according to the lawsuit.
The suit, filed Saturday in Essex County Superior Court by parents Gabriel Hernandez Jr. and Stephanie Conteron of North Bergen, asks for a jury trial.
According to the suit and past information from the family's lawyers, Neveah Hernandez's family brought her to Hoboken University Medical Center on Feb. 9 with a 104-degree fever. After waiting three hours to be seen, the kindergartener was given a rapid flu test, which was negative. She was sent home with Motrin.
"Twelve hours later, Neveah spiked a fever of 106," said attorney Francisco Rodriguez of Hackensack, in an interview on Thursday. "[She] was taken by ambulance to Hackensack University Medical Center and had a massive seizure on the way. The staff at HUMC was unable to save her despite heroic efforts, because she was so sick with the flu."
The suit says the defendants "were negligent, careless, reckless, and unskillful in failing to properly diagnose and care for Neveah Hernandez's influenza...causing her untimely death."
The hospital did not return a request for comment by press time.
Rodriguez said one purpose of the suit is to raise awareness of proper emergency room practices.
He said the hospital did not take a number of precautions before discharging Neveah, including re-checking her vital signs before she left. He said there's a medical motto, "Vital signs are vital."
"Unfortunately," he said, "It's all too common that somebody gets treated in an emergency room and is discharged without [doctors] rechecking their vitals to make sure they're still stable, and to make sure whatever treatment they're given worked. Often in a half an hour, even longer, enough things can change for the worse, and it may not be obvious without checking the pulse, blood pressure, respiration, pule oximetry, and heart rate."
Rodriguez cited the family's expert witness, Kayur Patel, an emergency room doctor in Indiana who submitted an affidavit along with the suit. Rodriguez said Patel wrote that giving the rapid flu test was "an appropriate first attempt at a diagnosis, [but] if they rechecked the vitals and they were not normal, this should have prompted them to do further testing."
Rodrigo and Elma Castillo, two pediatricians in West New York, are also being sued. Attorney Rodriquez said that Neveah's parents believed she had gotten a flu shot when she went to them for her routine vaccines, but when her records were checked, they revealed that she never received it.
"Had Nevaeh been vaccinated with the 2017-2018 flu vaccine, the efficacy against the H1N1 flu that she turned out to have was 65 percent," Rodriguez said Thursday. "If you still get the flu, it is likely to be a milder version than if you never have the vaccine."
The suit doesn't specify an amount for monetary damages, and Rodriguez said that it's not standard practice in New Jersey to specify the number. However, he said that a main goal of the suit is to raise awareness about a number of factors.
"Neveah's parents and grandparents want to bring attention to the need to vaccinate for the flu and test for it," he said. "With what's going on today, people get all worried about the coronavirus but they tend to forget that every year at least 10,000 people die in the flu in the United States in a bad year. Most of those are young children, seniors, and people with other serious health problems."
In New Jersey this season, at least two children have died from the flu.
Rodriguez said the hospital should have been extra vigilant because Neveah had had seizures before.
"Even though they gave Nevaeh Motrin to reduce the fever that she came in with," he said, "they never bothered to check to make sure it worked. This is particularly bad given that she had a history of febrile seizure."
He added, "The mom was not questioned about whether she had emergency medicine at home in case Nevaeh did have a grand mal seizure. This inquiry should have occurred and a prescription written if mom did not have any medications...bloodwork should have been done. If the blood work showed metabolic acidosis, they should have kept her in the hospital in the emergency room or admitted her."
Patel, the medical expert, wrote in his affidavit that based on reviewing records from all of the doctors, "It appears to me that there exists a reasonable probability that the care, skill or knowledge exercised or exhibited in the medical care rendered to Neveah Hernandez by [the defendants] fell outside applicable professional standards."
In a press conference held a few days after Neveah passed away in 2018, the family's then-attorney said that they had tickets to see Aladdin on Broadway with her that weekend. Instead, they were mourning her.
The family will conduct their second annual walk-a-thon to "end fluenza" this Sunday at 9 a.m. in Braddock Park in North Bergen. For more information, click here.