Medical Errors Kill Eleven-Year-Old Boy During Routine Surgical Procedure

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Alternatively, the former fighter pilots of LifeWings Partners LLC offers an innovative solution to help eliminate medical errors, decrease open malpractice files, improve observed to expected mortality rates, adherence to antibiotic protocols, and nurse satisfaction survey scores.

Eleven-year-old Justin Micalizzi died during a routine surgical procedure to incise and drain an abscess in his swollen ankle. The incident, reported by the Institute for Healthcare Improvement (Facts reprinted from with permission of © 2006), listed careless medical errors and a sloppy approach to safety protocols as the main reasons for the boy’s death.

Unfortunately, Justin’s death is not an isolated incident. “Forty-two percent of Americans report that they have been personally involved in a situation where a preventable medical error was made in their own care or that of a family member,” according to a study by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. Additionally, a recent report released on the Archives of Surgery titled “Incidence, Patterns, and Prevention of Wrong-Site Surgery,” reveals that many standard procedures now used to prevent wrong-site surgery are ineffective.

The hospital where Justin died was not using a proven safety system being adopted by many proactive hospitals to curb excessive patient-harming errors. The system is based on the same training and safety tools that have made commercial aviation so safe and reliable. Developed by the pilots, former astronauts, and physicians of LifeWings Partners LLC, the system is being taught to medical teams in hospitals around the country.

Vanderbilt University Medical Center is a hospital now using the LifeWings safety system. Prior to implementing the system the facility had a “wrong surgery” rate comparable to the national average. After their collaboration with LifeWings the rate improved to ten times better than the national average. These results have earned Vanderbilt the number one spot in patient safety indicators for the 2005 Leapfrog Hospital Quality and Safety survey.

“The LifeWings approach focuses on catching and detecting slips, trips and lapses before they become significant, patient-harming or fatal mistakes,” said Captain Steve Harden, a commercial airline pilot and president of LifeWings. “No human is perfect, but by using an aviation-based system designed to account for human imperfection, these needless accidents, like the case with Justin, can be virtually eliminated.”

Dr. Stephen B. Smith, Chief Medical Officer at The Nebraska Medical Center, another LifeWings client, agrees with Captain Harden, “Although our work is still in the beginning phases, we have already seen instances of errors captured before they affected the quality of patient care.”

To date, LifeWings has trained over 20,000 healthcare faculty and staff. Organizations that have used the LifeWings program have seen a measured reduction in wrong surgeries, a decline in open malpractice case files, dramatic improvements in observed to expected mortality rates, adherence to antibiotic protocols, and nurse satisfaction survey scores.

About LifeWings Partners LLC

LifeWings Partners LLC was founded by a former U.S. Navy Top Gun instructor and commercial airline pilot. The firm specializes in applying aviation-based teamwork training and safety tools to help healthcare facilities save patients’ lives and reduce costs. The firm has helped over 50 facilities nationwide provide better care to their patients. Measurable results are found in all LifeWings initiatives, including one hospital that experienced a 43% improvement in their observed to expected mortality figures. The firm also conducts Leadership Development workshops for healthcare executives and leaders.


Steve Harden, President

LifeWings Partners LLC


9198 Crestwyn Hills Drive

Memphis, TN 38125-8538


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