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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



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And that gave his father an optimism about his son’s future, despite his health problems.

“This kid was bulletproof,” Beckstead says. If only that were true.

According to court records, doctors who treated Spencer Beckstead between May 29, 2006, when he was admitted to Arnold Palmer and Sept. 7, 2006, when Spencer died there, said nothing about Spencer was average or predictable. His body was unable to maintain its own temperature, so he needed a special heating and cooling blanket to keep his temperature from spiking too high or dropping dangerously low. He experienced “autonomic storms,” which drove his heart rate and core temperature up and down. His respiratory rate and blood pressure would also dip and rise while he was in the hospital. His father says that over the time he spent in Arnold Palmer, Spencer did experience some neurological improvement, but he felt that his son still needed constant monitoring.

In Spencer Beckstead’s care progress note, dated Sept. 1, 2006, six days before he died, his condition was noted as follows: He was in the pediatric critical care unit being treated following cardiopulmonary arrest. He was suffering from static encephalopathy, panhypopituitarism, shunted hydrocephalus, autonomic dysfunction, respiratory distress and osteopenia with multiple bone fractures.

A physical exam revealed that his vital signs were fairly stable, but neurologically, there was little activity. He didn’t move his arms or legs. His eyes didn’t open. His pupils were fixed.

And yet, in a note in Spencer’s medical chart, written by Dr. Mary Farrell a pediatric intensivist who had been treating Spencer, he was to be released from critical care. Despite physicians’ notes that indicate that doctors had been preparing to discharge Spencer and possibly even send him home, Beckstead says that wasn’t what his parents wanted, and that Spencer still needed ongoing intensive care.

According to Dr. Farrell’s notes, she was upset with Spencer’s father. He had recently called police to report that Spencer had a broken leg, and the matter was investigated by the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration. Though the police records on the case do not indicate that Beckstead accused Farrell of abusing his son, she believed that he accused her. And she took it very personally.

A note made at 8:50 a.m. Sept. 1 indicated that she wanted to see Spencer moved out of intensive care and onto a regular floor, but Beckstead “is unwilling to have his child transferred.” As a result, she said, they had “come to an impasse regarding care and his demands are unreasonable at this time. I feel this is in the child’s best interest that he be cared for by another physician. I told him he needed to find another physician to care for his child.”

The only problem is that Farrell’s physicians group – known at the time as Children’s Critical Care Associates – was the only group contracted to provide intensive care to children at Arnold Palmer Hospital. And she wasn’t just terminating her own relationship with Spencer – when Farrell first told Beckstead that she would no longer treat his son, he requested that Spencer be transferred to one of the other two doctors in her group, Dr. Lawrence Spack. But according to Farrell’s notes, she told him that would not be possible because none of the pediatric intensivists would continue to work with him. His only option would be to find a lower level of care for Spencer – while he would be permitted to physically remain on the critical care floor, none of the critical care doctors would look after him. Beckstead then told her he’d work with a doctor who had treated his son before, Dr. Matthew Seibel. She told him he’d have to make arrangements on his own.

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