WHAT Could HAVE SAVED Frank?
According to the American Medical Association, there are 90,000 toxic substances in the workplace and the Toxic Substance Act does NOT require them to be proven safe to be marketed. Primary care physicians only study environmental medicine a total of 7 hours over their entire 4 years in medical school. It’s no wonder chemical exposure patients get sent on a medical mystery journey of unnecessary testing and misdiagnosis. Occupational & Environmental Medical Physicians (OEMP) are the experts in this field and should be referred to and consulted by primary care physicians. OEMPs could determine if their case scenario represents an occupational disease and whether further intervention is necessary. Furthermore, OEMPs could be available to take an environmental and occupational history for individuals concerned about the medical care they are or not receiving. Vigilance and early diagnosis are key to minimizing chemical illness and possible death.
My husband, Frank Stuart, then-owner of Stuart Consulting Group, a civil engineering firm, was a first responder to the BP Oil Spill. He, along with the member of another firm, developed the plan to save the estuary from Lafitte to Grand Isle. He worked about 15 hours, 7 days a week, for nearly 4 months.
Frank was a Bacchus, RV, skiing, and motorcycle enthusiast. He worked hard traveling the gulf coast and to Washington DC to secure projects for his firm. After his 2-week trip to Europe, in November 2017, he had a complete physical with impeccable results. In January 2018 he traveled back to Europe to drop off his daughter for a semester abroad, came back and went skiing for a week, then began celebrating Mardi Gras with a corporate dinner, riding in Bacchus, then taking his RV to Houston to relax the rest of the week.
On Wednesday, February 21, 2018, he developed a fever after a routine colonoscopy. Fatal Error #1: We didn’t think much of it. His doctor prescribed Cipro and he attempt to go to work in the following days. Fatal Error #2: We waited until Sunday, 5 days later, to go the ER with his up-and-down fever to the hospital #1, East Jefferson Hospital. Fatal Error #3: They asked us if he worked around chemicals but we said no he worked behind a desk. They admitted him with sepsis and some very unusual blood work.
An infectious disease doc, blood disorder doc, and a kidney doc was assigned to his case, along with the gastroenterologist who did the colonoscopy and his primary care physician who had recently done his physical. All had competing theories on a daily basis about what was going on. On March 2, he got kidney-stone type pain and we found he had a spontaneous bleed in his left kidney’s peritoneal. He was moved to ICU and they brought on a urologist. They began blood transfusions. By the end of the week, the bleed was slowing down and the prognosis looked good because they could tell his kidney was still healthy, but then he got a spontaneous bleed in his right kidney. He hadn’t eaten anything substantial since he first got fever so they put him on a feeding tube. The docs said he was healthy otherwise but they just needed to figure out what coagulation problem he was having. They also brought on a pulmonologist to drain his lungs, a cardiologist to test his heart due to his high heart rate, and began dialysis. The team of docs tried very hard to figure out but could not so on Thursday, March 15, they sent him to hospital #2, University Medical Center.
That night, they began retesting him to find the mystery illness and he pulled out his feeding tube out of his nose because it was so uncomfortable. A week later they put one in intravenously but it was causing him other problems. We repeated the same drama from hospital #1, with the addition of the crash cart a couple of times, and attempted physical therapy. He was disagreeable with physical therapy and still wouldn’t eat, so since we still had no diagnosis, by April 5, we requested to be transferred to the long-term rehab at East Jefferson Hospital. The next day, however, the docs finally told us he had Acute Myeloid Leukemia.
On Friday, April 7, he was moved to hospital #3, Tulane University Medical Center. We liked the room and at least we had a diagnosis so we could talk about a treatment plan. The leukemia doc did not come visit until Monday April 10. Fatal Error #4: We were told he was now too weak to undergo the necessary chemo to conquer the illness and he likely had about a week to live. On Saturday, April 15, he was transferred home in hospice care. He was in pain and losing the ability to speak. He was surrounded by me and all five of our kids and on Thursday, the morning of April 19, after receiving the last rights from a friend, he died in my arms.
In that last week, sitting next to him with my laptop, we began to research “what causes acute myeloid leukemia?”. I entered that exact question into google and got “However, the main known causes of acute leukemia are exposure to high levels of radiation, benzene, or both.” I didn’t know what benzene was so I asked google to find that “Benzene is found in crude oil and is a major part of gasoline.” I still didn’t connect the dots to BP at that point, so I searched for crude oil and acute myeloid leukemia. Since the 8th anniversary of the BP Oil Spill was coming up on 4/20, there was a lot of chatter on the Internet about it. I hit a news article about the BP lawsuit and read BP lawyers “argued in court that all individuals with exposure-related injuries diagnosed after the April 2012 cutoff date must sue for compensation under contract provisions reserved for latent injuries, such as cancer, which might develop years after someone comes into contact with the spill.”
Fatal Error #5: If BP knew that cancers may develop years after exposure, then why didn’t we know? Had we gotten the warning memo we would have been able to avoid the previous 4 Fatal Errors.
FIXING the 5 fatal errors.
- Don’t ignore a fever or infection.
- Don’t wait to seek medical treatment.
- Tell all doctors you worked on the oil spill. Many chemical exposure victims don’t even consider they work around chemicals that are harmful to their health.
- Don’t get diagnosed AFTER you have gotten too weak to take treatment.
- Frank’s story is everyone’s story – Established an Occupational & Environmental Medical Physician board to be proactively oversee chemical exposure cases to avoid all fatal flaws regarding health risk management, and establish a Frank Stuart citizen’s advisory council to be the interface between the board, the medical community and the citizens.