Long fight for justice

2014-11-11 00:00

TRISTEN Burn’s plaster cast was applied too tight to his leg for a single night.

But the mistake — compounded by other medical missteps — was enough to kill the otherwise healthy 13-year-old Hillcrest boy, according to an independent pathologist’s report.

Yesterday, the Health Professions Council of SA told The Witness that five KwaZulu-Natal doctors associated with Tristen’s treatment were being investigated for alleged negligence. But, after a fruitless two years seeking justice for Tristen, his mother, Vanessa Burn, said: “Our children’s lives clearly have no value in our law today.”

Now armed with a lawyer donating his skills, the Burn family vowed to fight for justice from health authorities, and to establish a fund “to protect other families from this atrocious negligence”.

Burn said the nature-mad youngster had picked up a minor ankle fracture while running over to the home of a nearby friend, in May 2012.

Tristen could identify any local frog species “just by hearing it, even its scientific name”, said Burn. “He was such a happy, well-mannered boy.”

A report by independent forensic pathologist Dr Steven Naidoo says that Tristen died of septic shock a week later, following a “sequence of events” relating to the hospital treatment of the minor injury.

Tristen was treated at St Mary’s Hospital in Mariannhill on four consecutive days, where he was finally treated for tuberculosis as his pain and condition dramatically worsened. He was transferred to R.K. Khan Hospital, where he died in his father’s arms.

Naidoo’s report stated “pulmonary tuberculosis was an incorrect diagnosis” and that X-ray “shadows” on his lungs had actually indicated lesions from an infection that had spread from his ankle injury.

Burn’s niece, Lisa Lee, posted the full report on a Facebook site established this week — “Justice for Tristen”. It attracted over 5 000 followers in 24 hours and features numerous claims by other families of negligence-related hospital deaths in South Africa.

Burn, a former tour guide, said the family’s Pretoria-based lawyers had abandoned the case “saying it was not financially viable”.

Meanwhile, Burn said at least three separate investigations, including an internal hospital probe and a police inquest, had yet to be finalised.

“Our medical and legal systems have both let us down,” she said.

“We have to change the law; there needs to be consequences so people will take better care. Had Tristen lost a leg, the state would have paid something like R11 million in damages, but there is no penalty if your child actually dies.”

However, she praised the intervention of East Coast Radio presenter Jane Linley-Thomas, who linked the family with a local attorney, Jeremy Diedricks, who was willing to tackle possible civil and criminal avenues free of charge.

“Tristen would have celebrated his 16th birthday next month,” said Burn. “We miss him.”

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