Mom wants change after baby dies from meningitis. 'We wanted to climb mountains with her'
In a matter of days, a mother watched her 7-week-old baby go from happy and alert to gravely sick with meningitis to dying in her arms.
Now she's searching for answers, urging parents to trust their instincts and demanding changes at Salem Hospital's emergency room in Oregon after discharging her sick daughter hours before her vital signs crashed.
"My hope is that something good can come out of this," Ginger McCall said. "What I want the most is to raise awareness so this doesn't happen to anyone else."
McCall, an attorney and state official who works as Oregon's public record advocate, moved from Washington, D.C., to Salem with her husband a year ago.
She was thrilled to discover she was pregnant.
"I wanted a baby for years," McCall said. "I feel like I waited my entire life to meet her and we only got seven weeks together."
Salem Hospital officials declined to comment on the death, citing privacy concerns.
“This is a heartbreaking loss, and Salem Health offers its deepest condolences," officials said in statement.
McCall sat Friday in her living room surrounded by flowers and cards, a program from her daughter's memorial next to her on the table. It had been less than a week since Evianna Rose Quintero-McCall — Evi for short — died.
Evi came down with a fever the morning of March 15. She cried a weak, moaning cry — a cry McCall now knows is a telltale sign of Group B strep meningitis.
She and her mother-in-law rushed Evi to Salem Hospital where she was given Tylenol and sent home with a lingering fever.
Hospital staff called infection routine
Looking back, McCall wishes she would've known to insist on a meningitis test, or driven 90 minutes to OHSU Doernbecher Children's Hospital in Portland, where they might have recognized the infection that would go on to kill her daughter.
She tried to stay calm, trusting the doctors.
"There's a stereotype of a hysterical, panicked, first-time mom, and that probably affected the situation," McCall said.
She told staff she tested positive for Strep B while pregnant. Expectant mothers are typically tested for the Group B strep infection and treated with antibiotics. The bacterial infection can be passed to babies during delivery.
McCall said hospital staff told her Evi probably just had a routine infection.
But Evi's wounded cry — "the worst sound you could imagine" — continued.
"I knew she was in real, terrible pain," she said.
A few hours later, McCall drove her baby to her pediatrician. Still feverish, Evi threw-up in the exam room. Her doctor told her: Go to the emergency room. Now.
He called ahead to alert hospital staff.
"I figured the doctors would be able to fix it," McCall said. "I remember thinking — we don't live in the 1800s, surely someone will save my child."
Once there, everything became a blur as hospital staff performed a spinal tap and tried to stabilize her daughter.
"It happened so fast. ... All of the sudden, she was crashing and they didn't take a moment to tell us what was happening. We were left in the dark."
Evi was transported via ambulance to OHSU Doernbecher Children's Hospital. Her condition deteriorated.
"They did their very best, but by the time she got there, it was just too late," McCall said.
Doctors have to end life support
Her daughter was placed on life support and declared her brain dead.
McCall and her husband, Omar Quintero, slept fitfully next to Evi. Alarms woke them at 5 a.m. Sunday — her vital signs were dropping.
Doctors withdrew life support, and McCall and her family took Evi to a hospital courtyard where they held her as she died.
"I will never get to know what color her eyes would've been or what her voice would've sounded like or who she would've grown up to be," McCall said. "That just kills me."
In the days that followed, McCall learned she wasn't the only Salem mother to lose her baby to meningitis.
In May 2018, a 7-month-old boy was taken to Silverton Medical Center, a hospital in Oregon, where he was given Tylenol and sent home despite the family's concerns.
The infant was later flown to Doernbecher and died from bacterial meningitis.
An average of 4,100 cases of bacterial meningitis resulting in 500 deaths are reported every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Babies are at an increased risk of contracting meningitis, which can be spread during birth. They can also contract it through the air from people coughing and sneezing, or from contaminated food.
McCall said she was told Evi had late-onset Group B strep, which caused the meningitis. She wants parents to know the warning signs.
"I hope they will strongly advocate for themselves and their children," McCall said. "I hope they will appreciate every moment they have with their children."
Mom believes better training needed
Symptoms of Group B strep meningitis and recording samples of the cries commonly heard in those infected are available at groupbstrepinternational.org.
McCall said her real hope is for hospital staff to become better educated about meningitis symptoms and change their protocol about diagnosis and discharge. She wonders if her daughter would be alive if someone spotted her weak cry as a sign of the infection during her first ER visit.
"I would like if for them to be trained to recognize the signs of this because it is so catastrophic and it happens so fast," she said. "Every minute matters."
She said she's not interested in suing the hospital for money. She just wants to see change.
With her good job, supportive family and law degree, McCall said she feels like she has the social, political and economic capital that most people do not have.
"I think it is my responsibility to use that to ensure this doesn't happen again," she said.
An outpouring of support followed Evi's death. Friends, family, government officials and co-workers filled Salem First Presbyterian Church Thursday for her memorial service.
McCall said she tries to remember the beautiful moments from her daughter's short life — a faint smile as she slept, an appetite so voracious they dubbed her the "Milk Monster," and trip to the Coast where she looked up with awe at the light streaming through the moss-covered trees.
McCall and her husband loved nature and hoped to share that love with Evi. They summited 14,439-foot Mount Elbert in Colorado last year and took a picture of themselves smiling, holding a sonogram of Evi.
"We wanted to climb mountains with her," she said.
For questions, comments and news tips, email reporter Whitney Woodworth at firstname.lastname@example.org, call 503-399-6884 or follow on Twitter @wmwoodworth
My 7 week old daughter, Evi, died of bacterial meningitis on March 17 after being treated at Salem Hospital. On the morning of March 15, I took her to the Salem Hospital ER, where they saw us, treated her with Tylenol and fluids, then discharged us (while she still had a fever)— Ginger McCall (@gingermccall) March 21, 2019
At 6:08AM, after she was declared braindead and life support was withdrawn, she died in my arms.— Ginger McCall (@gingermccall) March 21, 2019
Know the signs of meningitis and advocate strongly for yourself and your child.— Ginger McCall (@gingermccall) March 21, 2019
This article originally appeared on Salem Statesman Journal: Mom wants change after baby dies from meningitis. 'We wanted to climb mountains with her'