Health Care

Parents followed doctors’ orders for sick child but meningitis diagnosis came too late

Grieving mother speaks to media about son's death of meningitis

Doreen Mincey, the mother of a 22-month-old child who died of a suspected case of meningitis, speaks to the media at her attorney's office in Coral Gables on Dec. 14, 2017. Her son Connor is one of two children who attended a Miami daycare center
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Doreen Mincey, the mother of a 22-month-old child who died of a suspected case of meningitis, speaks to the media at her attorney's office in Coral Gables on Dec. 14, 2017. Her son Connor is one of two children who attended a Miami daycare center

The day that a Miami child-care center sent Connor Mincey home ill, the child’s parents took him to see a pediatrician, who diagnosed the 22-month-old boy with a cold and signed a note clearing him to return to care and attesting that he was not contagious.

But Connor never returned to the YWCA Carol Glassman Donaldson Childcare Center in downtown Miami. He died two weeks later on Dec. 3 of pneumococcal meningitis — the first of two children at the child-care center who died after falling ill.

On Thursday, Connor’s parents, Doreen and Donald Mincey, held a press conference in Coral Gables with their attorneys, Brett Rosen and Judd Rosen, and described their repeated attempts to find help for their son as his health worsened, from a high fever to difficulty breathing to weakness and an inability to move.

The Minceys said they hired attorneys to figure out what rights their son had and who was responsible for ensuring his safety and his health. The attorneys said they are gathering Connor’s medical records for a potential wrongful death and medical malpractice lawsuit.

During the two weeks between the day that Connor first went home ill on Nov. 21 and the day he died in the intensive care unit at Nicklaus Children’s Hospital, the Minceys said they took their son at least three times to the pediatrician, and to the emergency room at Jackson Memorial Hospital and then to Nicklaus Children’s.

Each time, the Minceys said, doctors sent Connor home with a prescription for Tylenol and other medications but no warning that his condition was worsening and potentially fatal.

“It’s been a nightmare,” Donald Mincey said, adding that he had to remove Connor’s bed from the boy’s bedroom because it was too painful to see now. “I look over and I want to see my baby.”

In retrospect, the Minceys said, Nov. 28 was a key date. They had taken Connor to the emergency room at Nicklaus Children’s with a fever of 103 degrees, Judd Rosen said. But doctors there suggested the Minceys instead take Connor to an urgent care center, which provides a lower level of care.

Donald and Doreen Mincey with Connor Mincey, who died at 22 months. Connor is one of two children at the YWCA Carol Glassman Donaldson Childcare Center who died after falling ill.

At the urgent care center, Donald Mincey said, a doctor diagnosed Connor with wheezing bronchitis and prescribed a nebulizer machine that delivers a medicinal mist to help patients breathe. Donald Mincey sounded incredulous as he recalled the urgent care visit with Connor.

“He’s dying in our arms,” Donald Mincey said. “The doctor told us to come back in four to six days. He had lost mobility by then. He couldn’t even stand. To keep giving this child Tylenol and Motrin ... and he’s not improving. We knew something wasn’t right.”

The following day, on Nov. 29, as Connor’s condition worsened, the Minceys said they took their child back to the pediatrician. Judd Rosen said the pediatrician — the lawyers wouldn’t name the doctor on Thursday — advised the Minceys to take Connor back to the emergency room at Nicklaus Children’s, where he was admitted and given antibiotics for the first time.

“From Nov. 21 to Nov. 28, he was never given antibiotics,” Judd Rosen said. “We feel that antibiotics would have been able to treat the condition that Connor had.”

Doctors at Nicklaus Children’s diagnosed Connor with pneumococcal meningitis on Nov. 30, Brett Rosen said. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the infectious disease is caused by a common bacteria that spreads through sneezing, coughing and direct contact with the saliva or mucus of someone infected.

It’s the type of illness that would easily spread in a child-care center. But children at the Donaldson Childcare Center are required to have vaccinations against pneumococcal disease, which can cause meningitis, and other illnesses.

Judd Rosen said Connor had received all of the necessary vaccines. A physician with the Florida Department of Health, which is investigating the root cause of Connor’s illness and any potential connection to the child-care center, also said Connor and a 2-year-old boy at the center who died on Dec. 10 were up to date on their vaccinations.

State health officials have not identified the second boy who died. Sources familiar with the investigation said the boy died in Belize, which has complicated the health department’s ability to confirm the cause of death and whether he also had contracted pneumococcal meningitis.

“Some of the challenges are confidentiality, limited laboratory testing availability, and the lab results are not available yet,” Mara Gambineri, a health department spokeswoman, said in an email on Thursday.

Gambineri added that the health department is waiting for results from laboratory testing conducted on cultures taken from the boy to identify his illness, and that the agency is working with his family to obtain his medical records from the country where he died.

She cautioned that it is cold and flu season, and added that health officials are being careful not to assume that the illnesses are related.

In addition, Gambineri said, the health department’s epidemiological investigation has not made a connection between the boys’ illnesses and the child-care center, though the agency sent a letter to parents of children at the Donaldson center on Dec. 7 stating that “a child” who attends the childcare center had been diagnosed with pneumococcal meningitis.

The health department’s letter did not reveal that one child, Connor, had already died on Dec. 3.

On Thursday, Donald Mincey said he called the center repeatedly after Connor fell ill on Nov. 21 to update them on the boy’s condition. Mincey said one of the workers told him that at least three children, including Connor, had been sent home ill.

He said he does not understand why the Donaldson center did not inform him and other parents that children were falling ill.

“I trusted them,” he said. “I blame myself for trusting these people.”

State health officials were unable to confirm if a third child at the center had fallen ill. But parents of children at the Donaldson center told the Herald that they had not been warned of a child falling ill with pneumococcal meningitis before the Dec. 7 letter from the health department.

Instead, parents said they were given a flier on Dec. 1 — the same day state regulators visited the Donaldson center for an inspection — with a stark warning: “Don’t Ignore the Signs of Meningitis.”

The YWCA, which operates the childcare center at Miami-Dade’s Stephen P. Clark Government Center, did not respond to written questions from the Herald about the flier.

But the group issued a statement this week saying all of the surviving children from the center who have been checked by doctors have also been cleared of medical issues that might be related to meningitis.

“The entire YWCA family is heartbroken by the loss of these precious lives and offer our sincere condolences to their parents, families, and friends,” read the statement. “The health, safety, and well-being of our YWCA families and staff are our greatest concern.”

Pneumococcal meningitis is considered a reportable disease in Florida, and doctors and hospitals that diagnose a patient younger than 6 with the disease are required to report their findings to the health department, though it is unclear at what stage the agency would alert the public.

Miami Herald Staff Writer Douglas Hanks contributed to this report.

Daniel Chang: 305-376-2012, @dchangmiami