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Families seek answers for death of loved ones

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by Mindy Aguon

Guam - The recent deaths of two people at the Guam Memorial Hospital has family members pleading for answers as they have concerns that the deaths of their loved ones could have been prevented.  The family members claim they've been unable to get answers and closure to lay their parents' to rest.    

Laura Kittle told KUAM News, "We just want to know what happened and how to prevent that from happening to other people, because these deaths I believe are preventable they didn't have to happen." She's spent the last four weeks trying to figure out why her mom, Karen, who had returned to the island to teach language arts at Oceanview Middle School, died just days after she was admitted to GMH for an emergency appendectomy and back surgery. 

"Imagine talking with your mom on the phone one day and then finding out the following day that she died alone," she said. "I didn't think she was in imminent danger."

Living in Perth, Australia, Laura was only informed of what her mother was going through via e-mail and phone calls from her mom and family friends. "I do know that she expressed some concerns about her care during her stay at the hospital," said recalled.

Such were concerns such as why she didn't receive a device that would have increased her lung capacity until several days after her appendectomy. Karen Kittle died from a pulmonary embolism on the day she was to be transferred to the Barrigada Skilled Nursing Facility. "What happened? She's 58 years old, she's healthy," said Laura. 

"The question in my mind remains what exactly happened to her the night of the 24th, and what caused her sudden death?," she added.

Bernard Crisostomo has similar questions.  His father, Joaquin, was admitted to GMH for flu-like symptoms on October 11. Two days later, Bernard says a nurse called to tell him his father had fallen. "When someone falls, we have to explain in detail, especially a patient falling. Ever since he fell, his leg started to swell. He had a big injury on his head. He started throwing up blood and he had black stool," his son said.

After the fall, Bernard says his dad's health began declining rapidly and eight days later he passed away. "How can you explain to family three days he'll be out, fall, and eight days later he's dead?," he questioned.

Crisostomo has been seeking answers from the hospital on why his dad fell and what caused his father's death. In fact, he claims there's still no cause of death indicated in his dad's file. "Yes, sick people do go to the hospital. Untimely deaths do happen. But sick people don't go to the hospital, get injured and then die. Is that a case that should be treated like any other normal case? I don't think so.  It should be treated promptly. Address this issue. How many more people need to fall to their death?" he said.

Both Crisostomo and Kittle have been unable to lay their parents to rest as they have requested internal autopsies in hopes to get some answers. Both say hospital management has refused to answer their questions about their parent's care. Kittle said, "If you don't have compassion for the families, how much compassion did you have for our parents?", with Crisostomo adding, "Where is the love?"

GMH administrator Joseph Verga meanwhile says the hospital has reviewed the two deaths. While he can't release specific details due to patient privacy protection laws, Verga confirms that both deaths were not preventable and died from natural causes. "We understand that grieving families are often angry and are looking for explanations to further explain the deaths of their loved ones," Verga shared. "We understand that sometimes they may not have understood how sick their loved ones really were when they came to the hospital."

"We have reviewed both of these deaths here at the hospital and both of these unfortunate deaths were not preventable and they were not a result of anything that the hospital could have done differently," he said.

The Kittle and Crisostomo families will be holding a candlelight vigil on Thursday night in memory of Karen and Joaquin at 7pm outside the hospital. They are hoping others in the community will join them in seeking answers and drawing attention to their concerns.

Verga however tells KUAM News that the vigil will have to be held off hospital grounds.

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