When her 18-month-old daughter Josie died of dehydration and cardiac arrest at Johns Hopkins Hospital in 2001 after a breakdown of communication by its medical staff, Sorrel King wanted them to suffer. But rather than take her anger out on the hospital, she started a crusade to end medical errors. In her new book, "Josie's Story," King tells the wrenching tale of how she pieced her life back together, turning personal tragedy into a rallying cry for reform.
Why did you decide to write this book? And can you explain the process you went through to do so.
I wrote it for the health care industry, to inspire them. I wrote it for a parent who lost a child. I wrote the book for my children. I wrote the book for the general public so it can be another tool in my toolbox to raise awareness on this issue that I don't think people quite get.
The most important thread to me that I hope to get out to all these categories is the book is about loss. We are all going to suffer some kind of loss at some time in our lives - loss of a job, death, cancer, divorce. What do you do when something bad happens? I hope people learn to take it and learn how to make something good come out of it. ...
I always kept a journal off and on. The first moment I realized I had a book, I was on an airplane leaving Texarkana, Texas. I was there with a hospital doing a patient safety talk. The characters that I met in that short 24 hours and the things that happened were so magical. As I sat on that plane I pulled out a pen and paper and started writing. ... Then I took the writing to a friend in publishing. Yeah, this could definitely be a book.
It kind of just came. There were tears streaming down my face as I typed on my computer. ... It was really therapeutic.
What is the most important issue concerning medical errors that you helped bring to the forefront?
The thing I will continue to talk about until people don't want to hear about it anymore is the importance of communication. To me, communication is not like cancer, or AIDS or diabetes. We don't have to wait until a scientific breakthrough. We - doctors and patients together - we can fix it now.
In the book, you advocate for the use of Family-Activated Response Teams as a way to help families better communicate with medical staff when there is a crisis. The approach is used at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. Explain how these teams work.
In a hospital, a rapid response team is a team of medical professionals with varying backgrounds ... such as a nurse, a respiratory therapist, a doctor, and an anesthesiologist. The team varies from hospital to hospital. When a nurse sees something is wrong, they can call this team in with different backgrounds with fresh eyes. The team can then evaluate the patient. When I first heard about these teams, that was the first time I realized - that's the cure. A rapid response team would have saved Josie's life.
Can you sum up your advice for people who have lost a child and for people whose family members have been victims of medical errors?
Specifically for parents who have lost a child: It's the worst possible thing that can ever happen to anyone. This is a message they don't want to hear right now, but one day they will find joy and happiness again. It will be a long, long journey and on that journey, get a grief therapist, read books, stay busy, keep your other children close to you.
My advice to family members that had a patient harmed by medical errors: Talk to the hospital. ... Ask for medical records. Go to the head of the hospital, go to the CEO. [If you still can't get answers] you interview lawyers, who will help you get answers. If things come down to a settlement or lawsuit, it really is not about the money. ... Do something good for someone else who may be in your shoes next time. Take that money and try to raise awareness.