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Monticello Father Hopes To Raise Awareness About Deaths From Medical Errors

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5-year-old Gabby Galbo of Monticello died from sepsis, due to Rocky Mountain spotted fever that went undiagnosed at a hospital for several days. After her death in 2012, she became the namesake of "Gabby's Law."

MONTICELLO – A group of advocates for patient safety from across the U.S. will gather in Washington D.C. this week to raise awareness about medical mistakes. Among them will be Monticello resident Tony Galbo, whose daughter Gabby died in 2012 at the age of 5 after getting a tick bite and developing a sepsis infection that went unrecognized.

Research studies suggest that about 200,000 people die preventable deaths due to medical mistakes each year in the U.S.

Galbo says he is marching in honor of Gabby — and also his father and uncle who have both died in the past year — in the hopes of bringing about policy changes that could save lives. He is also advocating for greater transparency from health care providers when medical mistakes occur.

“We are looking at regulatory reform in the health care industry,” he says. “We are looking at getting a national patient safety board, kind of like the [National Transportation Safety Board] in the aviation industry. We are trying to eliminate medical mistakes — and eliminate deaths due to medical mistakes.”

Gov. Bruce Rauner signs “Gabby’s Law” in a ceremony in August 2016 at Presence Covenant Medical Center in Urbana. Standing around him, from left, are Liz Galbo, Tony Galbo and State Sen. Chapin Rose (R-Mahomet). Jim Meadows/Illinois Newsroom

Galbo says he expects about 25 to 30 advocates to convene in D.C. for the march from Freedom Plaza to the Capitol Hill lawn, where they will plant 2,000 flags, each representing about 100 people who die from preventable medical mistakes each year.

“When [Gabby] died, I promised my daughter that I was going to make sure that no other parent… would have to [go through this],” Galbo says. “That is the promise I’ve been trying to fulfill.”

The march, which is being organized by the nonprofit Patient Safety Movement Foundation, will be recorded and broadcast on YouTube as part of a World Patient Safety event on Thursday, Sept. 17, from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. CT. Former president Bill Clinton, U.S. Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois and World Health Organization Director General Tedros Adhanom are among the scheduled speakers. 

Galbo says the event is for anyone who wants to learn more about the issue of patient safety and gain the tools to self-advocate in medical settings.

“You have to educate yourself and fight for yourself when you’re in the hospital,” he says. “Ask the questions. Make sure that you are involved in the care.”

Since Gabby’s death, Tony Galbo has worked to pass Gabby’s Law, which made sepsis protocols mandatory at all Illinois hospitals. That law was introduced at the federal level by Representative Rodney Davis of Illinois this summer.

Dr. David Mayer, a retired anesthesiologist and CEO of the Patient Safety Movement Foundation, has spent the past 25 years working on issues pertaining to health care quality and safety.

Mayer says that health care, like other high-risk industries such as aviation and nuclear energy, has risks to it — and no one who works in health care ever intends to cause harm.

But certain systems and processes can increase the likelihood of life-threatening errors, such as medication mistakes and hospital-acquired infections.

The Patient Safety Movement Foundation, Mayer says, advocates for the adoption of evidence-based protocols that are known to save lives. The organization supports policies that provide incentives for hospitals to seek better quality and safety outcomes, instead of being driven by financial outcomes. Mayer says he wants to see hospitals that fail to adopt evidence-based practices be penalized.

He also wants hospitals to be more transparent when they make mistakes that harm someone, and says he supports the creation of a federal patient safety agency that would review every situation where a patient dies or there’s a “near miss.”

After a review of the situation, the findings should be disseminated, “so that everyone in the industry can improve,” Mayer says.

Mayer says not every death is preventable, as people can die even when hospitals do the best job possible.

“But many times things don’t go as well,” he says. “Tony’s daughter clearly had an infection that was missed… Then the treatment was too late.”

Christine Herman is a reporter at Illinois Public Media. Follow her on Twitter: @CTHerman

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Christine Herman

Christine Herman

Christine Herman is a Ph.D. chemist turned audio journalist who covers health for the Illinois Newsroom. Her reporting for Illinois Public Media/WILL has received awards from the Illinois Associated Press Broadcasters Association, the Public Media Journalists Association and has reached both regional and national audiences through WILL's health reporting partnership with Side Effects Public Media, NPR and Kaiser Health News. Christine started at WILL in 2015.

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