Family still looking for answers in post-transplant death

Dale Cassavetes says the provincial Liberals are shirking responsibility and dodging questions about promises they made to investigate his daughter Nicole’s death.

Dale Cassavetes says his family still doesn't understand why his daughter Nicole died

Nicole Cassavetes died on April 24, 2012 from an infection following her heart transplant surgery. Her parents have gone to Queen's Park in search of answers, but none have been forthcoming, the family says. (Courtesy Cassavetes family)

Dale Cassavetes says the provincial Liberals are shirking responsibility and dodging questions about promises they made to investigate his daughter Nicole’s death.

Nicole Cassavetes died in Toronto's Hospital for Sick Children last year — a death the family says has left them broken and their lives haunted with questions. She had a heart transplant on April 13, 2012 and died from an infection on April 24.

“I get that feeling that people are just hoping we’re going to go away,” Cassavetes told CBC Hamilton. “And that’s just not going to happen.”

The family met with Ontario Minister of Health Deb Matthews back in April — the one year anniversary of Nicole’s death. Matthews said she would investigate the family’s concerns, Cassavetes says, but so far they haven’t gotten any information.

“We haven’t heard a word,” he said. “They’ve made no contact at all.”

Hamilton East–Stoney Creek MPP Paul Miller asked in the legislature on Thursday why the family has yet to receive any answers.

"On the first anniversary of their daughter's passing … they were here in this legislature still trying to get answers to very simple questions about what went so horribly wrong at Sick Kids," Miller said. "The minister met with the family, but why has the minister done absolutely nothing to respond to the concerns of the Cassavetes family?"

Matthews was not at the legislature for question period Thursday. In an emailed statement to CBC Hamilton on Friday, she said her "heart goes out to this family for their loss. Nothing is more difficult than the loss of a child."

She said that health care workers in Ontario do very difficult work, but she has full confidence in them.

"I understand that the hospital has also met with [the family] to go over their concerns," she wrote. "The Coroner’s Office has also reviewed this unfortunate death.

"I encourage the family to continue to work with the hospital to ensure that their concerns are addressed."

Acting Premier Brad Duguid did respond at Question Period, and said, “We’re working really hard and have been for a number of years to invest in health care and continue to make improvements."

'It shows they just don't care'

Cassavetes says he was baffled at the response. “My wife broke down watching it,” he said. “It’s very frustrating.”

“To me, it shows they just don’t care.”

Nicole, who was a ninth grader at Saltfleet Secondary, had heart problems from birth. Her first heart surgery was when she was 11 days old.

When she learned of her need for a heart transplant, she became a vocal advocate of organ donation. Her transplant journey drew more than 1,300 followers on Facebook.

Heading into the surgery, "I remember the overwhelming fear she had, but also the incredible bravery she displayed," her father wrote on the Nicole's Heart Transplant Facebook page.

"It was Nicole who kept our family together that morning. After 15 hours of surgery, we thought it was a whole new beginning for our family."

29 concerns

The family has a list of 29 concerns about her treatment, Cassavetes says. Among them: the damage to her new heart that seemed to be there before it was implanted, to medical staff keeping her chest open for six days.

The family also has questions about how long her new heart was stored before it went into her body.  Also on his list: the size of the heart that was transplanted, the age of the donor and the apparent administration of medication to which she had known allergies.

The family has gone to the pediatric death review committee, which found no fault. They have also lodged a complaint with the College of Physicians and Surgeons and written letters to Ontario's chief coroner and the Sick Kids chief of staff.

With files from Samantha Craggs


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