4 Fatal Errors

My husband, Frank Stuart, then-owner of Stuart Consulting Group, a civil engineering firm located in Jefferson Parish, 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 14 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. He intended to live a long life so he adhered to his preventive medicine visits to his doctors. 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 had this 5th routine colonoscopy, went to lunch, then rested at home. Later that evening he developed a fever. Fatal Error #1: We thought the thermometers were broken because they registered 103.9, so I went and about another one. It was solar so we had to wait 24 hours for it to charge. He called his doctor who had already left town but prescribed Cipro to fight the obvious infection. Too busy to lay down, the next day, he attempted to go to work, but the fever brought him back home. Same thing Friday. Fatal Error #2: By Sunday, 5 days later, the up-and-down fever was taking its toll on him so we went to the hospital #1, East Jefferson Hospital emergency room. Fatal Error #3: They asked us about his prior medical history including if he worked around chemicals but we said no he worked behind a desk. It never occurred to us that 8 years ago, the BP Oil Spill would be so relevant in his life today. They admitted him with sepsis and some very unusual blood work.

An infectious disease doc, blood disorder doc, and 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 1, his fever was under control, but the blood work results remained concerning. 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. Frank was a fighter, but on Saturday, March 10, he asked me if he was going to die. 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 the attention better 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 all five of his 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. That's when I connected the dots. 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." I asked the leukemia doc who told me it was quite possible.

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 4 fatal errors.

  • Don't ignore a fever or injection
  • Don't wait to seek medical treatment
  • Tell all doctors you worked on the oil spill
  • Don't get diagnosed after you have gotten too weak to take treatment

It made me wonder if other people had made, or were about to make, those same fatal errors. So I decided to create a documentary of Frank's life and death.  I premiered it in Lafitte, where Frank had worked, to notify the public of this Part 2 to BP. 70 victims showed up, many who had not yet connected the dots, but all were becoming disappearing victims themselves with similar stories to Frank's. I premiered 3 more town halls with the same results. It made me wonder why the medical profession was so baffled sending victims on a medical journey of misdiagnosis and treatments. So I continued my investigation into the health problem.

Know a Victim?

If you know anyone who died or was injured as a result of exposure to the BP oil, including yourself, honor him or her by adding their name to the memorial.