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Lawsuit accuses Arnold Palmer Hospital of boy’s death

Seven years after Spencer Beckstead died in hospital’s care, his father is still seeking justice

Photo: PHOTOS COURTESY OF JOHN BECKSTEAD, License: N/A

PHOTOS COURTESY OF JOHN BECKSTEAD

Photo: , License: N/A


At 7 years old, Spencer Beckstead had barely had a chance to live, but here he was at the emergency room at Orlando Regional Medical Center, dying. And somehow, nobody seemed to realize it was happening until it was too late.

He had been admitted to the emergency room on May 29, 2006, with a fever, dehydration and diarrhea, which was not uncommon for Spencer, who had battled serious health issues since he was diagnosed with a massive brain tumor when just a year old. His parents sought treatment for him at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn., where he underwent years of treatment before he beat his cancer and was stable enough to move with his family to Orlando in 2004. But brain surgery and years of chemotherapy left him with lingering health issues and disabilities, and he was a frequent visitor to the hospital. “We took him in whenever he had a fever or a temperature spike, and he would be there for about three days,” his father, John Beckstead, says. “Ninety percent of the time we took him in, all he needed was an antibiotic.”

Perhaps that’s what he needed this time, as well. But if so, that antibiotic did not come. When Spencer arrived at the emergency room at 8:20 a.m., his heart rate, at 147, was elevated. He had a temperature of more than 101 degrees, and his blood pressure was 69 over 21. Though his vitals were not normal for the average child, according to a court deposition from Dr. Jakub Mieszczak, a resident who cared for him at the emergency room on the day he was admitted, they were considered “not unusual” for Spencer, who had what doctors called a “complex” medical history. So the staff gave him a glucocorticoid steroid to keep his heart rate and blood pressure up. They did not treat him for dehydration because, Mieszczak said, his assessment of Spencer was that he was “not dehydrated.” He ordered cultures to look for sources of potential infection, but they would take 48 hours to return – in the meantime, antibiotics were not offered, Mieszczak said, because of the risk of antibiotic resistance. So Spencer waited while emergency room staff monitored him.

Over the next two hours, his vital signs fluctuated. By 1 p.m., his temperature, heart rate and respiratory rate were up again, and his blood pressure had dropped. At 1:22 p.m., nearly five hours after the Becksteads first arrived at the emergency room, Mieszczak called to admit Spencer to Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children, where the child had been a patient on and off since 2004. Fluids were ordered for him while they waited for transport to arrive. But at 1:52 p.m., it was clear that Spencer was in distress. By 2:15 p.m., he began to code. Mieszczak was at lunch.

Spencer went into massive cardiac and respiratory arrest in the emergency room that day. He coded twice and was resuscitated both times, but not before suffering from massive brain damage. While his father acknowledges that Spencer’s previous health battles left him with major health concerns – he needed a feeding tube, his vision was extremely limited and he was paralyzed on one side of his body – prior to his admission to the emergency room on May 29, he says that Spencer was able to communicate, interact with his friends and family and participate in physical therapy. After his cardiac arrest in the emergency room, he fell into what his doctors called a persistent vegetative state.

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