Caitlin Reese Cruz tragically died from the flu. Picture: GoFundMe via NCA NewsWire
Caitlin Reese Cruz tragically died from the flu. Picture: GoFundMe via NCA NewsWire

‘The sickest child I’ve ever seen’

A Sydney GP who helped revive a three-year-old girl the day before she tragically died from the flu has told an inquest she was "probably the sickest child I've ever seen".

But medical staff at one of the city's biggest children's hospitals failed to recognise the life-threatening condition of Caitlin Reese Cruz, counsel assisting the inquest Maria Gerace told the Lidcombe Coroners Court on Monday.

She said a series of systemic errors at The Children's Hospital at Westmead, including poor record keeping and lack of equipment, might have robbed Caitlin of a chance of survival.

Caitlin had been rushed to the hospital about 2.20pm on the afternoon of October 22, 2016 after she collapsed in her father's lap at a GP clinic in Rhodes.

Caitlin Reese Cruz died in October 2016 from a viral influenza infection that caused her heart to become swollen. Picture: GoFundMe via NCA NewsWire
Caitlin Reese Cruz died in October 2016 from a viral influenza infection that caused her heart to become swollen. Picture: GoFundMe via NCA NewsWire

Her lips were blue, she was barely breathing, her pulse and blood pressure were non-discernible and she didn't move when a cannula was inserted into her arm.

Despite a brief recovery, less than 24 hours later at 11.15am she was pronounced dead, with a post-mortem revealing her heart was inflamed and surrounded by fluid caused by a viral influenza B infection.

Ms Gerace told the court on the first day of the week-long inquest Caitlin's condition rapidly deteriorated after she was finally admitted to the intensive paediatric care unit on the morning of October 23.

That followed hours of "inadequate" care, with reports passed between medical staff that did not paint a "clear and complete picture" of her symptoms, nor the "urgency and concern" of her treating GP that day, Ms Gerace said.

An inquest is being held into Caitlin’s death this week. Picture: GoFundMe via NCA NewsWire
An inquest is being held into Caitlin’s death this week. Picture: GoFundMe via NCA NewsWire

She said among the concerning failures in care was Caitlin waiting hours to receive an ECG - a test that detects heart issues - as the machine in the hospital's emergency ward was "out of charge".

When she was later admitted into a ward a doctor was unable to find a hammer to test her reflexes because equipment had been moved to another part of the hospital.

While in the ward a junior doctor reviewed an ECG taken of the girl's heart but failed to interpret the results in written records. A senior physician did not see the results for nearly 12 hours.

The young girl from Lidcombe fell ill with a fever on October 18. Over the next four days she was tired, complained of stomach pains and had little to no appetite.

A worsening in Caitlin's condition led her concerned father Mitch Cruz to book her into My Health Medical Centre in Rhodes on October 22, where she collapsed in the waiting room.

The inquest heard of systemic failures in the girl’s care. Picture: GoFundMe via NCA NewsWire
The inquest heard of systemic failures in the girl’s care. Picture: GoFundMe via NCA NewsWire

One of the doctors who worked to revive her at the clinic told the court Caitlin was "probably the sickest child I've ever seen in an emergency in general practice".

A tearful Dr Sumeena Qidwai said she screamed for her receptionist to call an ambulance after observing Caitlin to be "floppy and blue" and appearing to be in imminent cardio-pulmonary arrest.

"I couldn't feel a peripheral pulse and I was unable to hear her heart rate," she said.

She described Caitlin as being almost completely non-responsive and believed she was in "imminent danger of death".

"I've never done a cannula where a child didn't even flinch. She did not flinch," she said.

The NSW Coroners Court in Lidcombe. Picture: AAP IMAGE / Angelo Velardo
The NSW Coroners Court in Lidcombe. Picture: AAP IMAGE / Angelo Velardo

Dr Faisal Qidwai told the court Caitlin did not appear to be breathing, and he fixed an oxygen mask to her, turning the flow up high.

When Caitlin left for hospital she had made somewhat of a recovery, now able to breathe on her own and responding to conversation, he said.

However, Dr Sumeena Qidwai told the court she did not think it was appropriate for her to write a referral letter to give to attending paramedics due to the urgency of the situation.

She directly addressed Caitlin's parents Mitch and Maria, saying she hoped the inquest could help them "heal".

The inquest continues before Deputy State Coroner Derek Lee.


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