Patient Story

In 2012 my husband, Dan, underwent his second liver/kidney transplant. The organs were transplanted successfully and he was on his way to recovery. However, while in the hospital, he acquired 5 major drug-resistant infections. One of the most lethal infections went untreated for many months. These infections and the drugs used to treat them created severe complications to the newly transplanted organs, as well as to his other major organs, and he required additional surgeries.

The powerful antibiotics caused complete hearing loss and severe deep bone pain. As often occurs in these situations, Dan battled these infections, month after month, only to have a new complication or medical error cause another infection. Unable to determine the source of infection, at one point, all of Dan’s central lines were pulled and replaced, placing him at risk for something called “septic shower.” He went in and out of septic shock. We were told he was in “warm septic shock” and that he was in “cold septic shock”.

Dan Greulich - multiple HAIs, yet not one was counted
by Rae Greulich

For months, he vacillated between "going to live" and "going to die". Every time he was close to death, he would miraculously rally. One doctor said in disbelief, "It's going to take a silver bullet to kill this guy." In fact, all it took was a few invisible germs. 

Dan’s body was fighting one infection or another for the entire seven months he was in the hospital. Yet, the doctor cited the cause of death on Dan’s death certificate as “heart arrhythmia”. Even when the autopsy report confirmed the cause of death to be septic shock, the doctor refused to change it. Hospitals frequently show an incorrect cause of death in order to obscure their infection figures. Dan’s infections were not reported to the State of California the year he died, as the hospital was required to do by law. Dan’s story was featured in a Reuter’s 

investigative, 3-part series report called The Uncounted. The investigation revealed that governmental agencies admit that there is no formal mechanism in place for tracking deaths due to healthcare acquired infections in the United States. 

The Reuter’s report showed that the CDC’s estimated 99,000 deaths per year due to healthcare acquired infection is woefully low. Nonetheless, even if we rely upon that gross underestimate, in 2015 (most recent figures), healthcare acquired infections infections killed more people in the U.S. than breast cancer**, than automobile accidents, than gun shots, than drug-induced mortalities**, or any two of those combined. Healthcare acquired infections severely injure about 2 million people per year who survive, but are often left permanently disabled.

Despite this carnage, hospital boards don’t prioritize funding for infection prevention or adequate staffing. Life-altering injuries and loss of life due to infections transmitted to patients while in their hospital are simply part of the cost of doing business, though that cost is borne entirely by the patients effected and their loved ones.

* https://www.cdc.gov/washington/~cdcatwork/pdf/infections.pdf

**estimated 40,290 breast cancer deaths in 2015 https://www.cancer.org/content/dam/cancer-org/research/cancer-facts-and-statistics/breast-cancer-facts-and-figures/breast-cancer-facts-and-figures-2015-2016.pdf

***36,252 gun related deaths; 36,161 motor vehicle deaths; 55,403 drug-induced deaths in 2015 https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nvsr/nvsr66/nvsr66_06.pdf