Some illnesses can be silent killers, appearing out of nowhere and taking our loved ones away without any warning. These illnesses can be difficult to diagnose as they do not have specific symptoms or the symptoms match those many other illnesses and infections. The Baldwin family also faced a similar situation when 13-year-old Peter fell sick and Mom Beth could not see the symptoms for what they were. What about medical professionals though?
Peter fell sick during the holidays, just before New Year’s Eve. He seemed like he had the flu, but his condition kept getting worse. Worried that it might be something else, Beth took him to their physician before New Year. The physician took his vitals, checked his symptoms, and diagnosed him with a chest infection. Peter started taking the prescribed antibiotics, but he didn’t seem to be getting better. Worried about Peter’s deteriorating health, Beth called her mother for advice, since Peter had already been taken to a medical professional and diagnosed. By the time Beth’s mother arrived, Peter was looking really ill, and they called for an ambulance to take him to the hospital.
The emergency responder who was in the ambulance finally diagnosed what was wrong with Peter. Peter had Type I diabetes which was undiagnosed. The emergency responder performed a simple finger-stick test, the results of which pointed to Type I diabetes. As no one in the family knew of the condition, he had not been given insulin and his sugar levels had not been monitored.
At the hospital, Peter’s condition kept getting worse. He was in intensive care, where he went into cardiac arrest and had to have emergency surgery. Even after the surgery, his vitals kept getting worse and his organs started shutting down. Doctors told the family that Peter was in diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA), which is a condition where the body starts shutting down because of lack of insulin.
Peter was being kept alive by machines, and the family had to make the painful decision of taking him off life support; it was unfair to keep him alive artificially, using machines, when there was no hope for recovery. In spite of continued efforts to treat his condition and stabilize his vitals, Peter passed away six days after he was admitted to the hospital, as his body simply could not fight anymore.
The emergency responder who diagnosed Peter performed a very simple test. Once Peter had been hooked on to oxygen and stabilized, the responder pricked Peter’s finger for a blood test. Within 30 seconds, his blood results showed that Peter had Type I diabetes, and the chest infection was an effect of the lack of insulin in his body.
This simple blood test takes less than a minute and can diagnose Type I diabetes with a fair amount of accuracy in most cases. The test is simple and does not need much to be performed, nor does it stress the child much. If there is the slightest hint that the culprit of infection or illness might be Type I diabetes, this test can be performed to confirm.
Once Beth grieved and started moving on from the loss of her son, she decided to look into the case and understand why the physician who examined Peter the first time could not diagnose the diabetes. She realized that although the physician’s diagnosis had not been incorrect, it had been incomplete.
Peter was not a sickly child who fell sick often. He was a healthy, active boy who loved to play, run around, and be naughty. When he suddenly fell sick before the holidays and did not get better from what seemed to be a case of a simple infection, the physician should have ideally probed further when he diagnosed the chest infection. Once the infection was discovered in Peter’s body, the physician had stopped probing Peter and Beth for more symptoms and information. Beth realized that if the physician had probed further, he might have been able to easily diagnose the diabetes that was eating Peter away from the inside.
Beth believes that asking four important questions about the four Ts could have saved her son’s life, and his condition could have been correctly diagnosed before it got so bad that he could not be treated. These are the four Ts, questions that Beth believes could have saved Peter and could save a lot of kids like her son:
Thirsty: Are you always thirsty? Do you feel like you cannot quench the thirst even when you drink a lot of water?
Thinner: Have you lost a lot of weight recently? Do you feel thin and weak? Has your child suddenly lost weight?
Toilet: Do you go to the toilet frequently to urinate? Does your child wet the bed often or have heavy diapers all the time?
Tired: Do you constantly feel tired? Have you been feeling more tired than usual after playing or other physical activities? Is your child always tired?
Beth realized that Peter had all of these symptoms around the time he fell sick. As the physician had stopped the diagnosis at the chest infection, all of Peter’s symptoms were not correctly recorded and the bigger problem was missed. Beth believes that had Peter been asked these questions, he could have been diagnosed before his condition got as bad as it did later and could have possibly been saved.
The Baldwins have now started awareness campaigns using videos and other media to raise awareness about the four Ts in memory of Peter. They believe that if more parents and physicians are aware of these simple questions, Type I diabetes can be diagnosed better, symptoms will not be ignored or missed, and other children do not have to suffer the way Peter did. This is their way of ensuring Peter’s legacy carries on, and his death and suffering can become a source of learning for others.
A mother's anguishWhy Beth Baldwin believes four questions could have saved her 13-year-old son's lifeMore: bbc.in/2sZfqf6
Posted by BBC Wales News on Tuesday, 11 July 2017
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