Rory Staunton, 12, was discharged from a New York emergency room last March as his body was in the throes of septic shock, an action that resulted in the boy’s death three days later.
Results of a blood test that would have saved his life were ignored by hospital staff, and now Rory’s grief-stricken Irish immigrant parents, Ciaran and Orlaith Staunton, are determined that no other family will suffer the same tragic fate.
The Stauntons, who appeared on the NBC Today Show on Wednesday are seeking to create a “Rory’s Law” in New York to ensure that parents have full access to blood and lab tests done on their children as soon as results are available, and that a doctor will be present to assess the findings.
Rory’s heart-rending story is again in the news due to a lengthy report by Jim Dwyer in The New York Times last Thursday which exposed a series of major errors by Rory's pediatrician and emergency room staff at NYU Langone Medical Center who diagnosed him with a stomach virus – even though blood tests taken at the hospital showed clear evidence of a raging septic infection taking root in his defenseless body. New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd also wrote about the case.
The blood results, though, were never acted upon by the pediatrician, Dr. Susan Levitzky, or the attending physicians at NYU who released Rory to his parents’ care with the diagnosis of a stomach virus.
The next day, however, with his condition severely worsened, Rory was brought back to the emergency room where his parents were given the devastating reality – their only son was gravely ill, suffering from septic shock likely obtained from a basketball game cut at school two days earlier. Rory died in the hospital two days later, on Sunday, April 1.
If the blood tests taken on Rory’s first visit to the emergency room were acted upon he would have been prescribed a strong series of IV antibiotics that would have saved his life. Now the Stauntons are mounting an effort to pass Rory’s Law to avoid a similar tragedy occurring in the future.
“Parents shouldn’t have to wait until their child is dead to see blood work results,” a broken-hearted Ciaran Staunton told the Irish Voice on Tuesday.
The Stauntons, also parents to 10-year-old Kathleen, have traveled to Albany to meet with state officials about the effort, and the reception has been overwhelmingly positive. They are also liaising with Governor Andrew Cuomo’s office with an eye towards introducing Rory’s Law early next year.
“What happened to Rory wasn’t a failing of human nature. It was professional incompetence. Rory’s blood work was right in front of their eyes and they did nothing until it was too late,” Staunton, a native of Co. Mayo and owner of two Irish bars/restaurants in New York, said.
The Stauntons, residents of Sunnyside, Queens, have been trying to pick up the pieces since bringing their first born child back to Orlaith’s hometown of Drogheda, Co. Louth, for burial alongside his grandparents. But knowing that their son was disastrously misdiagnosed has made the healing process that much harder, they say.
“We live with this tragedy every day, 24 hours a day. It will never end for us. Ever,” Staunton said.
The dynamic life that Rory lived was highlighted by The New York Times, both in Dwyer’s piece and a Sunday op-ed column by Maureen Dowd, who reached out to hero airplane pilot Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, an idol of aspiring aviator Rory. Sullenberger, who miraculously guided a US Airways flight onto the surface of the Hudson River in 2009, saving 155 lives in the process, is an advocate for patient safety standards in hospitals, and has contacted the Staunton family to offer support.
On Wednesday, July 18, the Today show will feature a segment about Rory’s death in its 8 a.m. hour. The Stauntons will talk about the shocking loss of their boy who not only wanted to fly above the world, but was also determined to make it a better place through his interest in politics and civil rights.
Septic shock awareness has increased dramatically since the Times articles and other media coverage, and the Stauntons have taken some solace knowing that Rory’s tragedy will unquestionably help to save lives in the future.
“We now know of many emergency rooms throughout the country who have taken Jim Dwyer’s article and used it as a tool to improve their patient practices,” said Staunton, who also created a website,www.rorystaunton.com, both as a tribute to his son and as a portal to highlight septic shock awareness.
“Things will change. They have to. But they won’t change for us, unfortunately. Our Rory was destined for great things, and now he’ll never have the chance to realize his dreams.”