BY 9 p.m. on March 24, 1999, Petra Lamas had spent nearly a day at King/Drew with her ailing 11-year-old daughter, Patricia Arellano. Patricia had been taken to the hospital with abdominal pain, and doctors had removed her appendix early that morning after deciding that it seemed inflamed.
Now, Lamas thought, it was time to go home and check on her baby.
Shortly after midnight, her phone rang. Get to the hospital, she was told. By the time she arrived, a sheet covered Patricia.
The Los Angeles County coroner ruled the cause of death to be acute pancreatitis, an inflammation of the pancreas that is rare in children but treatable. Tests showed that there was nothing wrong with Patricia's appendix, the coroner said.
Dr. James K. Ribe, a medical examiner, wrote in an internal report that in addition to appendicitis, doctors should have considered other diagnoses, including pancreatitis. He added, "The nursing care shows abundant evidence of incompetence, disorganization, and lack of supervision."
Twice during the hours before Patricia died, nurses had noted in her charts that her pulse was abnormally high. But doctors were not told, according to an analysis of the case by attorneys for the county.
Lamas sued. The malpractice case was settled for $100,000. A Mexican immigrant and hotel maid, Lamas says she cannot bring herself to spend the money. "I don't even want to touch it," she says.
Her daughter was a good student, a girl whose future held promise, she says. She wanted to be a police officer or a lawyer.
Nearly every week, Lamas takes three buses from her tiny home near downtown to visit Patricia's grave in Monrovia.