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Mother Sues Sarasota Memorial Hospital For Son's Death

Heather Kuehl is suing for"in excess of" $15,000 in damages for the 2010 death of her 1-year-old diabetic son Rocco.

A Sarasota mother is suing Sarasota Memorial Hospital for "in excess of" $15,000 in a medical malpractice case alleging that the hospital caused the death of her 1-year-old son. 

The suit alleges that during the treatment of infant Rocco Kuehl, the hospital did not correctly administer IV fluids and an insulin infusion, causing seizers and "irreversbile brain damage" that ultimately led to his death, according to the complaint filed Sept. 18 in Circuit Court.

Heather Kuehl of Sarasota, took her son Rocco to a Sarasota Memorial Hospital urgent care on Jan. 23, 2010 where he was diagnosed with a viral infection and Kuehl was told to take Rocco home and returned if his symptoms worsened, according to the complaint.

Dr. James DeRespino, physician's assistant James Updyke and Sarasota Emergency Associates, P.A., are also named in the suit.

Later that night, Kuehl took Rocco to the Emergency Room of the hospital where she was told by physician's assistant James Updyke "that she was overreacting and that her son had a virus."

Dr. James DeRespino ordered lab tests after Kuehl's request and the results found that Rocco was diagnosed with diabetic ketoacidosis, according to the complaint. That's the medical term for when the body can't produce enough sugar because of a lack of sufficient insulin and instead uses fat for energy.

The Pacific Northwest Diabetes Research Institute profiled the Kuehls and their story, shown in the YouTube video above, in 2010.

Kuehl said in the video that her son's breathing was shallow, called her nurse for advice after she took Rocco to the urgent care. 

"He didn't even have a temperature," she said. "He couldn't even get up."

She was devastated after the diagnosis saying that Rocco was in critical condition.

"I went into the restroom and I just started crying. I wasn't crying because he was diabetic," Kuehl said in the video. "I was crying because I was thanking God he got me there in time because I knew something was wrong."

Rocco was then given a bolus of IV fluids in the emergency room and was later given an insulin infusion, according to the complaint. 

The plaintiff alleges that the maintenance fluids to rehydrate Rocco "were inappropriate and represented a deviation and departure from the standard of care for a patient such as Rocco Kuehl."

The fluids caused brain swelling and multiple seizures in Rocco, according to the complaint, contributing to "irreversible brain damage" and died as a result, according to the complaint.

Kuehl said in the video that doctors told her that Rocco was comatose.

The suit alleges that the hospital and its physicians and staff:

  • failed to properly and timely examine Rocco before reaching a diagnosis and treatment plan
  • failed to perform timely lab tests
  • failed to timely carry out lab tests ordered "stat"
  • failed to timely consult with appropriate physicians or specialists for Rocco's condition
  • failed to properly administer appropriate IV and maintenance fluids
  • failed to properly monitor IV fluids and make necessary adjustments
  • failed to establish and carry out the transfer of a critically ill patient such as Rocco to a medical facility capable of treating his condition 

The complaint states that the plaintiff petitioned for an extension of the statue of limitations, as it is more than two years after the event, due to obtaining a written opinion form a medical expert to support her claims.

Kueul states that she has "incurred mental anguish and pain and suffering, incurred medical and funeral expenses and the loss of net accumulations of the Estate of Rocco Kuehl."

Kuehl has established The Rocco Foundation and is actively fundraising, with a golf tournament at Legacy Golf Club in the works after paperwork is finalized for the foundation. She has also participated in fundraisers for Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation as well.

Kuehl spoke to WWSB in October 2010 about her son's death and how she believed she left behind a camcorder containing the only video footage of her son behind on a park bench. She also urges that children be tested for diabetes earlier than 3 years old, according to WWSB:

"I don't want his death to be in vain.  He had a purpose in life and if his purpose was to get the awareness out and save other children then his death wasn't in vain" says Heather. 

The story didn't mention whether the Kuehls were considering legal action at the time.

Sarasota Memorial Hospital declined to comment on the lawsuit.

This story clarifies the amount of damages being sought in the suit and to update the status of the golf tournament and dinner.

hesther kuehl September 29, 2012 at 06:44 PM
This is Rocco's mommy. I do appreciate the Patch for sharing our son's story but the amount of $15,000 is incorrect, how can a parent ever out a price on their baby's life. The only reason for this Law Suit is to make sure that no other parent goes through what we are going through. Our son would still be here if it wasn't for the lack of care he received from SMH. I urge all parents to educate themselves on Juvenile Diabetes and the symptoms. The Rocco Foundation will be up and running soon, the Golf Tournament and dinner has been put on hold till all paperwork has been finalized. We appreciate your support and prayers. God Bless Rocco's Mommy
Charles Schelle September 29, 2012 at 07:08 PM
Hi Heather, Thanks for posting. I've added a clarification saying "in excess of" $15,000. The full 11-page complaint will be posted shortly for folks to examine.
Brent Kuehl September 29, 2012 at 10:50 PM
Thanks Charles
Stacey Olivieri September 30, 2012 at 02:46 AM
This is every parent's nightmare. My heart goes out to this family.
redhededkewty October 01, 2012 at 06:35 PM
I can't understand how staff can tell the mother of a diabetic infant that he has a virus WITHOUT testing? How very lax and incompetent. If that is hospital policy, then they should be shut down.

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