Nova Scotia

Family of N.S. teen who died of meningitis files legal action against doctors, hospital

The parents of Kai Matthews, who died at the Queen Elizabeth Health Sciences Centre on June 1, 2021, allege the emergency room doctors who treated their son failed to recognize he had meningitis and provided improper care.

Mother and father of Kai Matthews allege doctors, QEII Health Centre provided substandard care

Kai Matthews graduated from Upper Tantallon's Sir John A. Macdonald High School in 2020. (Paul Palmeter/CBC)

The parents of a 19-year-old who died at a Halifax hospital last year are taking legal action against the emergency room doctors who, they say, failed to recognize he had meningitis and provided improper care.

In a statement of claim filed at the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia on May 19, Norrie and Kari Matthews allege Dr. Nicholas Sowers and Dr. Ryan Henneberry breached their duties of care "in failing to provide timely and appropriate care" to their son, Kai Matthews, who developed a high fever and body chills on May 30, 2021.

According to the documents, Norrie Matthews first sought advice for his son by calling the province's 811 health information line. A nurse initially instructed Matthews to look after his son at home but that advice changed in a subsequent call, an hour later, when Kai's condition deteriorated. A nurse who spoke with Kai recommended he go to the emergency room.

The statement of claim noted he was treated at the Halifax Infirmary by Sowers, who assessed him and diagnosed a viral illness.

He was discharged at 12:17 a.m. AT on May 31, and was instructed to return if his condition worsened, according to the documents.

From left to right: Kai's sister, Vea Matthews; his father, Norrie Matthews; his mother, Kari Matthews; and his girlfriend, Paige Meagher. (Paul Palmeter/CBC)

The parents took their son home, but called 811 at 4 a.m. seeking advice because Kai "was experiencing severe body pains throughout his whole body" and "was unable to sit up," said the documents.

The couple called for an ambulance but — according to the father — paramedics who assessed his son informed him they couldn't transport him to hospital "due to Kai's pending COVID-19 test results and risk of transmissibility of the COVID-19 virus."

The parents drove their son back to the hospital, where he was given an EKG — classified as normal — and then seen by Henneberry, who discharged him after what the documents say was a 13-minute assessment.

In the Halifax Infirmary parking lot, the Matthews noted their son had developed a new rash on his neck, abdomen and upper back, which prompted Kai to return to the emergency room for a reassessment and more tests.

According to the documents, their son received an antibiotic, administered by an intravenous drip. He also had blood work.

Once again placed in the care of Henneberry, the ER physician performed a lumbar puncture, which was later confirmed to be an infection.

'Inadequate medical care' allegation

A subsequent CT scan showed brain swelling. Further tests confirmed he had a meningitis B infection. Despite further  treatment in the intensive care unit, Kai died June 1.

The statement of claim alleges both doctors "provided improper and inadequate medical care," "chose not to order appropriate tests and/or assessments," and "improperly and/or inadequately assessed and managed symptoms."

The parents accuse the hospital of similar negligence, as well as providing "inadequate nursing services," failing "to recognize the symptoms of meningitis" and ignoring, disregarding and/or responding "inappropriately or within an unreasonable time to signs and symptoms of meningitis."

No comment from health authority

The claims have not been proven in court.

The couple is seeking damages for the pain and suffering caused by the loss of their son, but they do not specify a monetary amount.

CBC News attempted to contact Henneberry and Sower. The story will be updated if a response is received.

The Nova Scotia Health Authority, which is also named in the suit, declined comment.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jean Laroche

Reporter

Jean Laroche has been a CBC reporter for 32 years. He's been covering Nova Scotia politics since 1995 and has been at Province House longer than any sitting member.

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