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Baby's death prompts war against hospital errors

The federal government announced last week a new initiative aimed at preventing medical errors in hospitals -- an epidemic that costs American taxpayers billions and results in hundreds of thousands of innocent lives lost each year.

On "The Early Show" Friday, CBS News Correspondent Cynthia Bowers told the story of one family's crusades to call attention to this dangerous trend.

From the time they met and married, Fritzie and Cameron Burkett dreamed of having a house full of children, but after suffering through two miscarriages, that dream appeared less and less likely.

Fritzie Burkett told CBS News, "When I got the second miscarriage, it was a little discouraging, but I just believed and had faith that when it was good timing it would happen."

On Sept. 6, 2010, their son Genesis was born at Lutheran Hospital in Chicago, three months premature.

Cameron Burkett recalled, "I was overjoyed, you know, it was our first child. ... He had some of my features. I could see it and I was like, 'Wow, it's amazing that we created that child together."'

But while in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (ICU), fatal mistakes were made. During a routine procedure, Genesis was given 60 times the normal dose of sodium in his IV bag. Blood tests that day revealed he had extremely high levels of sodium in his body, and despite doctor's orders to have him checked, nothing was done for more than eight hours.

Six weeks after his birth, Genesis Burkett went into cardiac arrest from an overdose and died.

Unfortunately, these nightmare scenarios are playing out in hospitals across the country. By some estimates by the Texas Medical Institute of Technology, 200,000 people die each year from preventable medical errors, and countless more are injured.

Don Berwick, administrator for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid ServicesDangers of hospital negligence , said, "As many as one in seven, maybe even one in three of every hospital admission or patients are injured by the care that's supposed to help them."

Now, the Burketts have filed suit against the hospital, claiming it was negligent in their son's care and that he died due to a preventable human error.

Patrick Salvi Sr., the Burketts' attorney, said, "A simple mistake could have been picked up several times along the way, by a pharmacist, then by a doctor, and they were not, and as a result, a little baby that was well on his way to recovery died."

Dr. Lee Sacks, executive vice president of CMO Advocate Healthcare, said, "Our organization takes full accountability for the tragedy leading to the death of the baby, and has been transparent and disclosed everything we know about it in a commitment to improve care."

The Burketts hope publicizing their pain can draw awareness to the deadly dangers that may be hiding in a place of healing.

Fritzie Burkett said, "You have these dreams and you work towards making those dreams happen, and then like it's kind of like a nightmare comes in a second and takes away everything."

Special Section: Dr. Jennifer Ashton
Dr. Jennifer Ashton's Twitter page

CBS News Medical Correspondent Dr. Jennifer Ashton said on "The Early Show" that, "Sometimes there's just not much that a patient and their family can do" to prevent medical mistakes. "In this particular case, in the piece we just heard about in a neonatal ICU, we're talking about often very premature babies, very small, very fragile, very sick newborns. Errors in that setting are eight times more likely to occur than they are to occur in adult settings. Again, some of them may be equipment or mechanical errors. Some of them, as it was in this case, might be human errors. Strategies are being put in place, as we've heard, to try and reduce or minimize that. But, you know, you just have to hope for the best and be active and involved when someone in your family is in that setting."

Before you go to the hospital, Ashton recommends doing your research about the facility.

She explains, "You want to talk to your doctor, if possible, if it's an elective or scheduled situation and ask as many questions as possible. And if you're talking about being admitted to a hospital, it's always a good idea to bring a friend or relative with you, and have someone there at all times who's not as emotionally vested in what's going on, but can really pay attention, can hear what's being said to you as it's being explained, and be able to repeat that back to you if necessary."

Asking questions is also important, she advised.

"The key here is to be active, to be involved, to be an advocate," Ashton said. "A lot of people are embarrassed or ashamed, and they don't want to speak up, don't want to cause trouble. That's actually the opposite of what a patient or their family should do. So there are a couple of key tips: Number one, you always want to check that anyone touching you or your relative has clean hands. Doctors and nurses should actually wash their hands or use hand sanitizers in front of you before coming to the patient's bedside. You want to confirm the procedure. Ask why it's being done. What body part is being tested? Ask as many questions about that procedure as possible. You want to review all allergies, all medications, repeatedly. You cannot overemphasize that type of information. And lastly, it's always a good idea to ask for written information. I write down all specific drugs, tests, procedures, the names, and the doses on a piece of paper and give it to my patients because, again, this is common information and language for me - not so common for the patients."

When you head home, Ashton said, it's also important to have written instruction to continue your care.

"Follow-up is critical," she said. "A lot of mistakes actually occur after you leave the hospital or a doctor's office. If someone says, 'We'll let you know if the results are abnormal.' (That's) not sufficient. You want to follow up, make sure you get the copy of that result and the test results. If possible, in printed form."

For more on Ashton's tips, click on the video below:

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