Healthcare-Associated Infections: A Silent Epidemic That Took My Father

In July of 2008, my father, Richard G. Croke Jr., went into the hospital for a surgery to remove a piece of his esophagus after being diagnosed with esophageal cancer the previous winter. While the initial chances of survival for this type of cancer were slim, six weeks of chemotherapy and radiation treatments left my dad cancer free. Although the esophagealectomy was an invasive procedure, we were told that the surgery would be the easy part of his journey now that he was cancer free.

The day after his surgery, I went to the hospital to visit him. He was up talking and cracking jokes in his usual manner. Everything seemed fine. Until we received a phone call from the hospital in the middle of the night saying that my dad was extremely ill and might not make it through the night. That was the beginning of the six weeks that changed our lives forever.

Upon entering his ICU room that night, my dad was full of almost 100 pounds of excess fluid, was attached to a number of IVs, and had a ventilator breathing for him. We were told that my dad was in septic shock, which was caused by MRSA entering the bloodstream through the contaminated central line on his foot. He spent six weeks in the hospital, and for a while was getting better until he caught C. diff about a month after the initial bout with sepsis.

When my family was first told that my dad had caught C. diff, it didn’t seem too serious compared to some of the other infections he had already caught. I was clearly mistaken. Just days later, we were called in again saying that my dad was in another life or death situation. He had developed a condition called toxic megacolon as a result of the C. diff, and was again in septic shock. We were told that he would die within a few days if they didn’t surgically remove the infected piece of his colon, but he was so weak that he might not make it through the surgery. We decided to do whatever we could to save him, electing to have the surgery, which had to be performed in his ICU room due to the fact that the ventilator he was on was not portable. He survived the surgery and again appeared to be getting better, until we received another phone call in the middle of the night two weeks later.

My dad passed away on August 25th, 2008, due to a number of healthcare-associated infections caused by C. diff, MRSA, and pseudomonas. A week after my dad past away, I began my freshman year at Providence College, where I started doing more research and taking classes to learn about what happened to my dad. What I discovered was alarming: that nearly 1.7 million individuals in the United States alone are infected by healthcare-associated infections annually, with approximately 99,000 of those souls succumbing to their illnesses. The most appalling part was that such infections are largely preventable, by using techniques such as stringent hand washing and other prevention protocols.

While I have spent the past four years learning more and trying to make sense of what happened, I have also been trying to find ways to help raise awareness about healthcare-associated infections. The common response I typically receive when explaining the issue of these infections to people is that they are just largely unaware. I was extremely lucky to have had two professors who believe in my cause, and have allowed me to work on two separate projects regarding healthcare-associated infections. One of those projects is a documentary called “A Silent Epidemic,” which chronicles my experience with my father, as well as that of several other individuals that I have come to know over the past few years who have had similar experiences. While this began as a short film for school, I have decided to share my film online in order to help raise awareness. A few small changes need to be made before I share it online, but I hope doing so will help prevent others from going through what I have had to.

The most important thing that I have learned from this experience and in all of my work is that you need to communicate with healthcare professionals. Healthcare-associated infections should not be a fight between healthcare professionals and patients and their families. We all need to work together in order to combat the common enemy: infection.

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7 Responses to “Healthcare-Associated Infections: A Silent Epidemic That Took My Father”

  1. Maria Cann says:

    Emily, my condolences, and I can empathise as I share your thoughts. There are a large number of us who do too and are working to raise awareness so that patients, their families and the professionals can work together to tackle the problem of these infections. Visit our website and see our profiles and you will see that we too, sadly, have a lot in common.

  2. Jill Brower says:

    My sister died at Christmas, 2011, from sepsis. On October 22, we were told she had c-diff. The next day they sent her home. She had a nurse that came twice a week. She was told her c-diff was cleared up. On Christmas morning, there was something really wrong with her, and I called 911. The EMS techs weren’t even going to take her to the hospital at first. Three hours later, I got a call telling me my sister was in ICU. Before I could get down to the hospital, they called to tell me I needed to come say goodbye to her. Turns out the c-diff was never gone, and her organs just shut down on her. They kept her alive until we could all get there. In 2 months time, she went from a vibrant, fun-loving person to her death. The only reason she even went to the hospital on Oct. 22 was because she fell, and I couldn’t get her up. She got this virus IN THE HOSPITAL, but, of course, they say she didn’t.

  3. Emily Croke says:

    Thank you both so much for your responses! I’m so sorry you’ve both had similar experiences. It’s a horrible thing to have to go through, but I truly believe we’re headed in the right direction with our dedication to raising awareness. It’s unfortunate that our loved ones are not able to be here with us, but I find it comforting to know that I’m at least working to make something of my father’s death while also keeping his memory alive.

    Jill, your story sounds so much like mine. It makes dealing with loss so much harder when you know someone was at fault but have no way of proving it. That’s one of the biggest things that led me in the direction of creating this film. Throughout the process, I’ve been able to come to peace with many things, yet there are still certain things I saw that I’m not sure I will ever be able to fully accept, but I just keep trying to move forward hoping I can at least help the next person.

    Maria, I’d love to hear your story. I will definitely check out your website! Thanks so much as well for all of your efforts to raise awareness! It’s great to see so many people who are passionate about helping to get the information out there.

    I’ll be posting the video online within the next few days. Ondine Biomedical has been an amazing help, and will share it with everyone as well! I definitely hope doing so will get the information out to more people. Thanks again and look forward to hearing from you both soon!

  4. Ashley says:

    This is beautiful!!!!! You’re amazing Emily I am so proud o you and your accomplishments!!! Your dad would be so proud!!!! You have so much going for you, you are an extremely intelligent young woman and this blog is so touching!!!!!

    • Emily Croke says:

      Thank you so much! It means a lot to hear that, since it has definitely been hard sharing my personal story, but I hope that doing so will help others! Thanks again!

  5. Kathy Santos says:

    I went to my obgyn the other day. He came in and just used the hand sanitizer. I told him he needed to wash his hands with soap and water. He said the gel was fine, I told him no way. I won that battle.

    • Emily Croke says:

      Go Kathy! That’s awful that you had to go that far, but at least you were finally able to get him to understand how important it is.

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