In 2009, after a successful knee replacement surgery, all signs indicated that Louise Batz would make it out of the hospital in time for the birth of her fourth grandchild.  Yet, when she returned to her room, she was unnecessarily prescribed a combination of sedatives and opioids that resulted in respiratory depression and an anoxic brain injury. Louise was placed on life support and 10 days later, tragically lost her life.

While Louise was on life support, her children asked countless questions and it didn’t take long for them to realize that their mother’s deteriorating condition was caused by a preventable medical error. “I wondered, ‘Does this happen to a lot of people, or are we just the most unlucky people in the world?’”says Laura Townsend, daughter of Louise Batz. “I started doing research and I couldn’t believe what I was reading: Almost 200,000 people a year die from preventable medical errors, that it is the third leading cause of death in this country.  How did we not know until it was too late?”

“I started doing research and I couldn’t believe what I was reading: Almost 200,000 people a year die from preventable medical errors, that it is the third leading cause of death in this country. How did we not know until it was too late?”

Taking action

In her honor, the family founded the Louise H. Batz Patient Safety Foundation with Townsend as president.  She describes her mother’s death as the most devastating moment of her life. “It felt like my mom had just been hit by a drunk driver. It was all so sudden, all so unexpected and tragically, could have been avoided,” she says.

By partnering with healthcare facilities, Townsend and her staff are looking to promote a cultureof teamwork, increase the health literacy of patients and families, empower patients to ask the most critical questions, track and log medication use and vitals and learn how to be an extra set of eyes for the medical team.

“I wish every day that I could just have five hours back. If I only knew then what I know now, my mom would be with us,” Townsend says. Although Louise’s family asked thousands of questions in the days leading up to and after the accident that took her life, like many patients, they simply never asked the right ones.  

In Louise’s case, this meant that nobody on the medical team or in the family thought to check if she was one of the more than 25 million Americans with undiagnosed sleep apnea, which — if discovered earlier — would have led to more vigilant monitoring and the avoidance of certain drugs. “Preventable errors are no one person’s fault,” says Townsend. “My mom had great nurses, great doctors and a great family, but great players don’t always make a great team. What happened to my mom was 100 percent preventable. The time is now to work together to help our doctors and nurses, and to truly become part of the healthcare team. If we are going to make a difference in the staggering numbers of preventable medical errors that happen each year, we can no longer be spectators in our own healthcare.”

A community united

This Patient Safety Awareness Week, in memory of Louise and the thousands of other Americans who lost their lives to preventable medical errors, we urge patients to educate themselves on what they can do to become a stronger member of their care team.

“She was just the best mom in the world,” Townsend says through tears. “She taught me how to love, respect and care for others, to never give up, to always persevere and most importantly, never to lose hope. She was my hero. She saved my life everyday and still does.  I hope her story and legacy will inspire the hero in all of us.”