1. Health
Trisha Torrey

Even Astronauts Die from Medical Errors - A Story of Proactive Survivorship

By April 29, 2012

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Just back at my desk after several days in Washington, DC where I attended (and spoke!) at a patient safety conference which both astounded and delighted me - and gives me hope that progress is being made, even if it's ever so slight.

Among the VIPs were many highly respected attendees and speakers were some names you might recognize.

Capt. "Sully" Sullenberger, the captain of the plane that safely landed in the Hudson River in 2009, described the 208 seconds from when he realized his jet had lost an engine until the flight came to rest in the Hudson... riveting. He was there to show us how airline safety lessons can be applied to healthcare, too.

Farzhad Mostashari, MD, the National Coordinator for the nationwide implementation of electronic health records spoke about "meaningful use," including the need to be sure patients have access to their own records to help them in decision-making and their own safety, too.

And Nancy Conrad, wife of astronaut Pete Conrad. A space flight hero, Pete flew four space missions and was the third person to walk on the moon. While the official notices of his death say he succumbed to injuries from that motorcycle accident, it turns out he died due to a medical error in the hospital. Since then, Nancy has been working with patient safety leaders to try to affect changes in how safety issues are reported, and how safety steps can be better implemented in hospitals.

Hearing Nancy's story, and seeing the strides she has made to promote patient safety, and further rubbing elbows with some of my co-patient-safety-colleagues, reminded me of the fact that we all have that possibility in front of us - the possibility that we can take our very negative experiences and turn them into something very good for others.

I call it Proactive Survivorship. It's the concept that says that once you've had a horrible, negative experience, you can dwell on it, and suffer from it. Or you can turn it around into something that will help others - perhaps preventing them from suffering in the same ways you did, or fixing a wrong that exists in the system.

I've written before about some of these folks, several of whom were in attendance last week: In addition to Nancy was Regina Holliday, whose husband died after a number of horrible experiences. Now Regina tells her story in a variety of venues and even more impressive, Regina paints her impressions of safety conversations. Karen Curtiss founded Campaign Zero, has written a book for patients and caregivers, and speaks on issues relating to infection safety. Tiffany Peterson survived years of attempts at getting diagnosed, and still has trouble working with her providers sometimes. But Tiffany blogs and tweets to help fellow Lupus patients.

And me - yes - I am a proactive survivor. Had I not suffered my own medical mistake (being misdiagnosed with terminal lymphoma), I would not write and speak to help patients today.

Who do YOU know who has turned their negative experience into something good for others? Maybe it's YOU. Or maybe it's someone you know or care about. Or maybe it's a stranger whose proactive survivorship you admire...

Maybe that person has started a non-profit organization. Or maybe he or she simply phoned someone who needed support. Turning bad into good doesn't have to be done on a large, grand scale. The biggest steps AND the smallest, help other people.

So - here's an official invitation to you to share a story of a proactive survivor - you (yourself!), a friend, a loved one, or simply someone you admire.

Share your story of turning healthcare lemons into lemonade to encourage us all to help others which, in turn, helps us even more.

(Comments are welcome - but stories should not be shared in the comments section. Please share your stories so they won't disappear like blog comments do!)

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Photo of Astronaut Pete Conrad Getty Images

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