Daniel Corrigan and Zoe Lepage lost their son Dakiel to whooping cough last August. (Photo: Francis Tessier-Burns).

Parents looking into legal action against CHEO after losing son

Zoe Lepage and Daniel Corrigan lost their son, Dakiel Guy Corrigan, when he was just 44 days old.

Dakiel died of whooping cough on August 25, 2017. Now his parents are looking to take legal action against the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO) because in their eyes, the care given to Dakiel was insufficient.

‘Dakiel is getting really bad’

On July 12, 2017, Lepage gave birth to Dakiel at 36 weeks; he weighed about two kilograms. For the first month, Lepage said he was gaining weight regularly and was a healthy baby.

And then within a week, his health took a turn for the worst.

On August 13, Dakiel developed a bad cough. The next day, Lepage took him to the local clinic in Plantagenet. She was sent home and was told he had a milk intolerance. Lepage didn’t think much of it because some of her older kids had an intolerance as well. But throughout the evening his breathing became more and more laboured and he started vomiting. So Lepage brought him to CHEO, signing in about 1:15 a.m. on August 15. Lepage says the administering doctor sent for blood tests, and then told her it looked like a simple cold virus and the vomiting was due to a milk intolerance. Lepage adds that she was then sent home.

A few days later, Dakiel wasn’t doing any better. His breathing was still laboured and he continued vomiting, so Lepage brought him back to CHEO in the night between August 17 and 18. Lepage says they met the same doctor as during the previous visit and were told there was nothing serious; Dakiel may have gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), essentially heartburn. HealthLinkBC says it’s “common in babies and children, and it is usually not a sign of a serious problem.”  Lepage says they were sent home again. 

On August 21, he was still vomiting and continued to have trouble breathing. Lepage says she brought him to the local emergency clinic and was sent home with Dakiel diagnosed with a cold virus. In the evening, Lepage put Dakiel down in his bassinet. A few minutes later, she and Corrigan heard “a noise” and saw Dakiel’s face had turned blue.

They called 911 and first responders brought Dakiel to the emergency room at Hawkesbury General Hospital. HGH then transferred him to CHEO via ambulance. According to Lepage, doctors at CHEO asked them why they hadn’t brought Dakiel in before as they suspected he had pertussis, commonly known as whooping cough. Lepage said it was the third time they’d been to CHEO in a week. Doctors sent for tests and the next day they confirmed Dakiel had pertussis. 

The family has kept a corner of their home filled with photos and other memories of Dakiel. (Photo: Francis Tessier-Burns).

For the next few days, Dakiel was put on ventilators but his state continued to worsen. In the early afternoon of August 25, Lepage says one of the doctors called her as the family was out for lunch.

“He said, ‘Zoe, you have to come now. Dakiel is getting really bad. He… He… He’s bad’,” she recounts. “When we arrived, the priest was there, social workers too… We realized, ‘We’re leaving here today and we’re leaving without our boy’.”

Dakiel’s body gradually shut down and about 3:15 p.m., his parents decided to take him off the ventilators. A few minutes later Dakiel’s heart stopped beating in his father’s arms.

Ongoing questions and CHEO response

The main question gnawing at Lepage for the past year is: Why did the doctor not test for whooping cough in the first visits to CHEO?

“They told me he didn’t have the symptoms of whooping cough,” says Lepage. “He was missing one symptom, it was fever.” According to her, Dakiel’s temperature was consistently below normal body temperature rather than above.

The family has lodged a complaint with CHEO and the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario against the doctor who saw Dakiel during his first two visits to CHEO.

In past responses, CHEO said it reviewed the care given to Dakiel during his time at the hospital. Also in an emailed statement, Dr. Lindy Samson, CHEO’s Infectious Disease Specialist and Chief of Staff, acknowledges that “Whooping cough often presents in atypical ways in young infants, even without a cough at all.”

The Review followed up with CHEO and asked about the results of the review and the test process for whooping cough, considering it can present itself differently in infants. However, communications officer Paddy Moore said the hospital wouldn’t comment on the review.

“The last thing we want to do is get into a public debate with a grieving mom or grieving parents about what may or may not have happened,” he said. “For us the compassionate thing is just not to talk about it.”

Also in Dr. Samson’s statement, she brings up the need for vaccination. Lepage maintains she was vaccinated against whooping cough while she was pregnant, and Dakiel was too young to be vaccinated (the first one against pertussis is at two months old). There have also been other cases of babies contracting the illness despite vaccination.

Finally, both Moore and Dr. Samson said the hospital is open to continue meeting with Dakiel’s parents. But Lepage says past meetings haven’t gone well and now wants a lawyer to be present.

Legal challenges

So far, Lepage says no lawyer has been willing to take on the case since the family doesn’t have the means to pay for a medical expert, which according to Lepage, could cost upwards of $10,000. In August, the family set up a GoFundMe page to try and raise the funds.

As the family has yet to file for legal action, none of the allegations about the actions of the medical personnel outlined above have been proven in court.

Lepage also raises inconsistencies between CHEO’s paperwork and her experience at the hospital. A couple of examples include the paperwork showing Dakiel died in her arms, not Daniel’s, and admission papers of the third visit show they arrived by car, not ambulance.

The Review asked her if she thinks this is enough to pursue legal action.

Her answer is simple: “Well, yes.”