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More heparin overdoses, this time in Texas

July 9, 2008 | 11:42 am

Newquaid Add at least 17 Texas infants to the number of children mistakenly given overdoses of heparin in the hospital. At least one of those infants died, and an autopsy is planned to determine whether the blood thinner played a role. Another is still in critical condition.

The problem reportedly occurred in the Christus Spohn Hospital South pharmacy, according to the Corpus Christi Caller-Times.

This may sound familiar to Los Angeles and Indianapolis residents. The newborn twins of actor Dennis Quaid made headlines across the country last year after an accidental overdose of heparin at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. They survived, but three infants died in 2006 after a similar mix-up at Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis.

The incidents received national attention. Quaid testified before the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform about his family's experience, and he and his wife, Kimberly, created a nonprofit organization, the Quaid Foundation, to reduce human errors in medical care. Many news stories and analyses about both incidents followed.

And yet such errors keep happening.

As a 2006 Institute of Medicine report "Preventing Medication Errors" points out: "Medication errors are among the most common medical errors, harming at least 1.5 million people every year."

It's hard to see how patients, in this case their families, could have prevented these mix-ups. But there are some things patients can do to help protect themselves. Somewhat.

Here's a tip sheet from the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality: 20 Tips to Help Prevent Medical Errors. It includes logical tips such as "When your doctor writes you a prescription, make sure you can read it. If you can't read your doctor's handwriting, your pharmacist might not be able to either." But perhaps most important: "Speak up if you have questions or concerns. You have a right to question anyone who is involved in your care." At the bottom are other links to online resources and reports, many of them quite good.

For an L.A. Times Health section look at the issue, check out a couple of articles produced in the wake of the Cedars-Sinai overdose: Patient, protect thyself and 'It's never just one thing' that leads to serious harm.

Also, as a bonus, here's the rather bland statement from the chief medical officer of the Christus Spohn Health System and, if you're curious about heparin in general, some understandable -- and useful --  information from Drugs.com.

-- Tami Dennis

Photo: Actor Dennis Quaid testifies before the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform in May.

Credit: Shawn Thew / EPA

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