Meningococcal Septicaemia – the misdiagnosis of Venice Kowalcyzk

  • Author : Arushan Pillay - 15-05-2013

On 23 July 2004 at about 4.55 a.m. a nine month old infant girl by the name of Venice Kowalcyzk was brought to the Royal Childrens’ Hospital Emergency Department by her parents.  At that time they said that she was uncharacteristically miserable and spiked a fever of over 39 degree, was coughing and seemed unwell.  Her father asked if she could be tested for meningococcal and was told by the resident medical officer that Venice was not so unwell that warranted such a test.  Venice was given Panadol and Nurofen and then at around 7.30 or 8.00 a.m. her parents were told that they should go home and try to collect a urine sample from her.  During this time Venice had been prepped to have blood cultures taken.  These were not ever taken however.

At around 3.00 p.m. Venice’s mother noticed that young Venice was still terribly unwell and now had a rash appearing on her hand and also her tummy.  Her parents rushed her back to the Royal Childrens’ Hospital Emergency Department.  They were triaged category three and told to wait.  They were put into a cubicle where first observations were done again.  During this time Venice stopped breathing.  Her father ran into the corridor and shouted for help.

  Venice was eventually resuscitated and spent nearly ten days in ICU with meningococcal septicaemia.  She had amputations below the knee on both legs and below the elbow on her left arm.  She lost the tip of three fingers on her right hand.  As a result of contracting meningococcal septicaemia she also suffers from neurological problems.

I appeared on behalf of the Kowalcyzk family and Venice lead by David Curtain QC in this trial in the Supreme Court of Victoria.  It was a heart wrenching story which unfortunately played out in media here in Melbourne.  Ultimately after four days the case was resolved on a confidential basis.

One of the very curious things about this case was the fact that after the opening addresses to the jury, when the Plaintiff had shown a number of photographs of Venice before and after contracting meningococcal septicaemia and also a video showing a current day in her life, the Plaintiff applied to the Judge to make sure that none of those images were released to the media.  Despite this the judge did release those materials and they were used by both print and television media extensively over the next few days.  The parents were worried that this would have a negative impact on Venice at school and amongst her peer groups.  Despite this however the judge decided to release the materials.

About the Author

Arushan Pillay

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