Racism, negligence at Seattle Children's Hospital led to 16-year-old's death; Lawsuit

A Snohomish County family is suing Seattle Children's Hospital, saying their 16-year-old daughter died as a result of negligence and "widespread racism" from healthcare providers.

The family of Sahana Ramesh is suing the hospital for professional negligence and discrimination, which they say directly led to the teenager's death. On Feb. 7, 16-year-old Sahana collapsed and died in front of her family in their Edmonds home, the tragic culmination of months and months of emergency visits, varying drug prescriptions and miscommunication between physicians at Seattle Children's Hospital.

Sahana died of myocarditis caused by DRESS — "Drug Reaction with Eosinophilia and Systemic Symptoms" — specifically from Lamotrigine, which she was prescribed after suffering seizures beginning in April 2020. When doctors recognized Sahana's allergic reaction, they provided contradictory and "fruitless treatment," according to the family's lawyer.

Her prescription started at 50mg daily, then was doubled to 100mg, then increased again to 150mg.

The lawsuit claims that doctors were slow to respond to their concerns for three months, and when visiting different departments, such as the emergency center or Neurology or Dermatology departments, they did not appear to be coordinating care. At no point during the 17 hospital visits made by the Ramesh family was it recommended that Sahana be admitted to the hospital to have her vitals monitored.

Sahana was diagnosed with DRESS, then was discharged for home care. As her rashes worsened and spread over her body and she broke out into fevers and chills, doctors directed her parents to share photographs with them.

Sahana's mother sent a frustrated email to hospital staff saying she had heard nothing for 10 days following a doctor visit, and said that Seattle Children's various departments were not coordinating treatment. The doctor who originally prescribed Lamotrigine replied and said she "was not included on the notes and was not aware" of Sahana's DRESS diagnosis.

"Can you please help?" Sahana's mother wrote in an email after her daughter's condition worsened further.

On Feb. 7, 2021, Sahana died; the Snohomish County Medical Examiner ruled the cause as "eosinophilic myocarditis" caused by Lamotrigine.

The lawsuit also claims "evidence of widespread racism" at Seattle Children's Hospital. The same month that Sahana was diagnosed with DRESS, Nov. 2020, Dr. Ben Danielson — a Black doctor who led a clinic for decades — resigned over "patterns of racism" at the hospital. During the course of Sahana's treatment, the hospital CEO ordered an official to resign, and had reportedly used racist slurs when referring to Danielson and other people of Asian descent, the lawsuit claims.

Seattle Children's eventually hired former Attorney General Eric Holder to investigate their policies and practices. They refused to release any findings after the investigation was complete, until public pressure led them to release two excerpts, the lawsuit says. While limited, they detailed that "Seattle Children's Hospital has failed to take instances of specific and systemic racism seriously," and that "[p]atient experiences vary based on race and English proficiency."

One of Sahana's doctors was extensively quoted in a New York Times article on racial disparities in children's healthcare, which concluded that children of color are "less likely than white children to be given appropriate pain medications." The Ramesh family say in their lawsuit that if Sahana was not of South Asian descent, she would have received non-negligent care from the hospital.

"If [Sahana's parents] were not members of their protected class, [doctors] would have been more responsive to their repeated pleas for help for their daughter," the lawsuit reads. "A more aggressive medical response would have allowed doctors to treat Sahana's myocarditis before it killed her."

FOX 13 News reached out to Seattle Children's Hospital for comment, who returned the following statement:

"Our hearts go out to any family mourning the loss of a child and we take our responsibility to provide equitable, high-quality care seriously, but cannot comment on this specific case due to pending litigation."


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