How a 19-month-old boy died of meningitis after being discharged from hospital with ‘gastro’

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A 19-month-old boy died of meningitis days after being discharged from hospital with what a doctor told the family was gastro, a coroner’s court has heard.

Noah Souvatzis died in Christmas 2021, a coroner has heard, with his family holidaying in the Myrtleford area, 282km northeast of Melbourne, when he fell ill.

He was unable to keep fluids down, had a high fever and was vomiting and crying for hours.

Stuck in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic, Ben and Steph Souvatzis took their son to an urgent care centre after he became severely lethargic.

They were then advised to take their to the Alpine Health Care Centre in Myrtleford, which was staffed by nurses with a doctor on call.

They were then told to drive to Wangaratta Hospital, roughly 40km away, because it would be faster than an ambulance.

The inquest heard that inside, the hospital had staffing issues due to staff on leave combined with heavier traffic from the holiday period.

Noah was initially diagnosed with gastro by Dr Paul Bumford and was discharged from Wangaratta Hospital at 7.20pm, about four hours later.

But his condition worsened on the car ride home, forcing the family drove to Benalla Urgent Care where the 19-month-old was ultimately sent back to Wangaratta Hospital, and later flown to the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne.

Noah was declared brain dead days later and died with bacterial meningitis.

The Coroner’s Court is now investigating the medical care Noah received and if his death could have been prevented.

Dr Bumford told the inquest on Tuesday he wished he had asked a more senior doctor to assess Noah’s condition and regretted not passing him on to the paediatric team to keep him under observation.

“Given his condition had improved, I felt it was reasonable to discharge him,” Dr Bumford told the inquest, according to The Age. “I am devastated at [the] outcome.”

It was Dr Bumford’s first-ever locum shift at the hospital and he believed the little boy had gastro.

“That was a huge error on my part… obviously there have been a lot of failings on my part,” he said.

“I’ve thought about [what I could have done differently] probably every day since it’s happened. A big problem for [the parents] was me not listening to them… I’ve thought about that a lot.”

Lawyers for Northeast Health, which operates Wangaratta Hospital, have now admitted that the care staff provided Noah was inadequate.

The court heard the young family had made five trips to hospital or urgent care facilities in 48 hours to try to get their son treated while in regional Victoria.

They said they came across several under-resourced regional health clinics, including one which had run out of paracetamol.

Mr Souvatzis described Noah as a “beautiful, gentle boy” who “deserved so much better”.