Oct. 25—As Lyndsey Sutherland approached her daughter's gravesite in Westbrook, she carefully removed her shoes.
Sutherland and her daughter, Jasmine "Jazzy" Vincent, used to have picnics and long talks here, sitting barefoot and talking about the relatives who were buried there years before — including Vincent's older sister Autumn, who died the day she was born.
"I didn't know after Autumn passed if I'd ever have another one," Sutherland said Wednesday. "And then came Jazzy, and she came in like a storm. She filled my world. I never knew unconditional love until that girl came out."
Vincent is buried alongside her sister. She was 15 when she died on Aug. 1, 2021. The family was told at the time that she died of pneumonia. The shock of her death increased, Sutherland's attorney Meryl Poulin said, when they discovered several days later that Vincent actually had a type of leukemia.
Sutherland filed a civil lawsuit in in Cumberland County Superior Court on Wednesday against two southern Maine health care providers, alleging that the companies failed to properly diagnose her daughter's cancer. Had they caught it sooner, the complaint alleges, Vincent would still be alive.
The complaint accuses Martin's Point, a primary health care provider in southern Maine, and Mid Coast Medical Group, now owned by Maine Health, of being negligent and failing to provide Vincent with adequate care.
It alleges the health care providers failed to order further testing — despite the teen's concerning symptoms and numerous visits and calls before her death — and failed to relay important, timely information to Sutherland about Vincent's care.
A spokesperson for Maine Health said in an email Wednesday that their "foremost commitment is to provide safe, high-quality care to all patients." The company declined to answer questions regarding Sutherland's allegations because of the open lawsuit.
Martin's Point did not respond to a list of detailed questions about the allegations. The complaint also identifies various doctors and medical employees who treated Vincent, but they are not included as defendants. Efforts both to reach them Wednesday and to verify their employment were unsuccessful.
Sutherland is asking for a jury trial and various types of damages under the Maine Wrongful Death Act.
"This has obviously been a worst nightmare for a parent come true," Poulin, the attorney, said. "And in many ways, Lyndsey is still living that nightmare."
The complaint says Vincent's death was "senseless and completely avoidable."
Standing beside her daughter's grave, Sutherland struggled against tears when talking about Vincent's unexpected death, and how devastating her loss has been to family and friends.
"She really did love everybody and everything deeply," said Sutherland. "If you were in her circle, you were in her circle. There's not a second I don't miss her."
She declined to discuss the specifics of her lawsuit, but spoke at length about the daughter she loved and misses. She often thinks about Vincent and the busy life they shared.
She was an avid cheerleader and gymnast, having started the latter at 3 years old. She was active in her Gorham church, she had a fun and vibrant sense of fashion, she was popular at school and adored by her two older sisters, her mother said.
Vincent had always been a healthy, active child, Sutherland said. She ate well, exercised and had a contagious energy.
But when she visited Martin's Point in Brunswick on July 14, 2021, Vincent was having a hard time breathing and her throat hurt, according to the lawsuit, which spells out a series of doctors visits, diagnoses and treatments she was given over the next 18 days before her death.
Dr. Sarah Sedney diagnosed Vincent with mild asthma and a sore throat after a negative strep test. Vincent returned a week later, her cough was worse. She was lethargic and her stomach hurt, the complaint states.
Katharine Swan Potter, a family nurse practitioner, recorded Vincent's "abnormally high" heart rate and blood pressure, diagnosed her with pneumonia and prescribed her antibiotics and steroids. Potter did not order further testing, according to the lawsuit.
On July 26, Vincent met with Dr. Danielle Salhany, a gynecologist at Mid Coast Medical Group, because her breasts were now discolored and swollen, making it harder for her to breathe. The veins running from her neck to her chest were concerningly big, the complaint states.
Salhany didn't address Vincent's veins, according to the lawsuit, and determined her swollen breasts were a result of the steroids Vincent had been prescribed for the pneumonia. Salhany told Vincent to stop taking the medication and follow up with Martin's Point.
Sutherland did, twice, according to her complaint. On July 30, when Vincent's symptoms worsened, Sutherland left a message for Potter. The nurse practitioner told her staff that morning they needed to call Sutherland and tell her to bring Vincent to the ER. But according to the lawsuit, that message wasn't given to Sutherland until the next day when the mother called again.
Vincent arrived at the Martin's Point emergency department that afternoon. She was sent to Maine Medical Center that evening and transferred to their pediatric intensive care unit to address the excess fluid around her lungs and heart.
Shortly after midnight, her heart rate slowed. She was pronounced dead early in the morning of Aug. 1.
Several days after her death, it was determined the fluid was actually related to a type of acute lymphoblastic leukemia, Poulin said. The National Cancer Institute noted this year that approximately 98% of children with that type of leukemia attain remission.
"If Martin's Point had only sent Jazzy to the Emergency Department on July 30, as Jazzy's primary care provider instructed, Jazzy likely would have survived," the complaint alleges.
Vincent would have turned 18 in August. Several friends and family members gathered that day around her grave with balloons and flowers.
Sutherland said she sees Vincent's friends regularly. It's hard to watch them prepare for life beyond high school and not think of the milestones Vincent is missing.
She said she hopes families reading about Vincent never take their children for granted.
"You don't know when your last day will be. So kiss your kids, and tell them you love them," Sutherland said. "Because you don't know."