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Patient Safety

One Mother Lost Her Daughter to a Medical Error, Now She’s Raising Awareness

Photo: Courtesy of Members of the King Family

Sorrel King

After Sorrel King’s 18-month-old daughter Josie died of a medical error about 20 years ago, King decided to take her loss and turn it into an action plan to help save lives.

“I learned that 98,000 patients die every year from medical errors — the fourth leading cause of death in the country,” King said. “It’s like a jumbo jet crashing every day …. and as I kept digging and learning more about it, I also realized that people didn’t really talk about this issue.”

King’s family, which took settlement money from Johns Hopkins, where her daughter’s medical error occurred, began the Josie King Foundation to raise awareness of this issue. Now, she speaks about this cause at events around the United States.

She explained that health professionals don’t usually talk about medical errors, and neither do patients or their families. In the latter case, grief and legal battles are two common barriers. 

“It all of a sudden became really clear to me that I needed to talk about it,” King said.

Despite her negative experience with the healthcare industry at the time of Josie’s death, King noted that healthcare workers deserve respect, strong leadership, and support in knowing that they can speak up when they may feel burnt out. After all, these steps can all help reduce medical errors — and during the COVID-19 pandemic, these efforts are more important than ever, King emphasized.

“How can we help them? How can we show gratitude?” said King, adding that Patient Safety Week (which is March 14–20) is an opportune time to ask these questions. “I really worry about sort of the long-term effects that this year has had on everyone in the healthcare industry.”

At the beginning of the pandemic, her foundation delivered over 6,000 meals with personalized notes to 14 hospitals. “That’s just like a teeny drop in the bucket of what needs to be done,

but at that time when this whole thing was happening, it was the only thing I could think of to do,” she said.

By showing appreciation, patients can help do their part to reduce medical errors, King noted, and that step is closely tied to culture and leadership at medical institutions. 

“When you suffer from loss or disappointment, you have to figure out the reason why, and you have to figure out what to do with that loss and disappointment, which I think I’ve been lucky enough to understand,” King said. 

“I believe that Josie died for a reason,” she added, “and it’s become very clear to me that the reason she died was so that her story to be shared all around the world, and to inspire future healthcare professionals and assisting healthcare professionals.”

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