Conway family seeks answers in toddler's popcorn kernel death

CONWAY, SC (WMBF) Children, especially toddlers, will put anything in their mouths. It's dangerous, and for a one year old Conway boy, it turned deadly.

Rushing the young boy to the doctor didn't save his life, leaving the family with questions as to how a popcorn kernel could take away their son and grandson.

Kaiden's family is concerned doctors might not have made the right decision when it came down to life or death. His mother was still too emotional to talk to WMBF News Anchor Michael Maely, but the boy's grandfather wants his questions answered.

"This is the first room I come to every morning," said Johnathan Hughes walking into his grandson's bedroom. "He loved to hug and kiss people."

Any relative should find comfort in their first grandchild's bedroom, but for Johnathan Hughes, Kaiden's bedroom, also stirs up emotions no one should have to face.

"Sometimes you smile, other times you just wanna get out," said Hughes.

That need for space, ignited by a single word from a doctor at Conway medical center, the night of August 22, last year.

"I asked him, 'Is he gone?' and he said 'yes'. You don't think a little thing like Sharing an ice cream, can mean so much, and it's not right and it's not fair that he's not here," Hughes emotionally explains.

Three days before Kaiden died, he'd been coughing and a doctor prescribed medication that Friday. Monday, Johnathan says he noticed Kaiden's lips were blue, something terribly worse than a cough. Responders rushed the toddler to the hospital, and according to the nurse's records, he arrived just before 8 p.m. Aug. 22. X-rays showed something was blocking Kaiden's airway.

"I was trusting what they were telling me and maybe if I was just a little bit louder and pushed it, they might have done something sooner," regrets Hughes.

Hughes says despite his request for urgent action, Dr. James Lindsey wanted MUSC doctors from Charleston drive up to get Kaiden and take him back, weather had prevented a medical flight.

"When he came in with blue lips, they should have been looking at alternatives, because we're not gonna send him to Charleston. We're talking about 5 hours; maybe Wilmington can get a flight here," Hughes reasons during an interview with Maely.

During the wait, young Kaiden's condition fades; roughly 90 minutes later his heart stops. Hughes learns the details days later, in the nurse's report.

At 9:39 p.m. CPR starts, according to the nurses notes, 30 minutes later, no response.

"His lips were all blue, extremities were cool to the touch, just no life in his body at 10:09 p.m.," recalls Hughes. Sixteen minutes later Hughes says a doctor uses a bronchial scope to go in Kaiden's airway for whatever's blocking it. At 10:25 p.m. the kernel is removed.

"I thought he was gonna be okay when they said they got it out," said Hughes.

Hughes told Maely that Doctor Lindsey said they were still treating Kaiden after a doctor removed a popcorn kernel from his airway. He later learned in nurse's notes, Kaiden's heart had not been beating for nearly 45 minutes.

"Do you feel like you were misled?" asked Maely.

"We were definitely misled. I felt that. I don't know if he didn't wanna tell us, you know, he was in cardiac arrest," said Hughes. "Why didn't they do this procedure at 8 p.m.? And nobody would tell me that. I wasn't privileged to know that information," said Hughes. "Maybe I wouldn't be so hurt and so upset, if they would have just said 'look, we're gonna investigate this,' but it's just like the door was shut."

The door to Kaiden's room, still wide open, a makeshift shrine, his first shoes, even the decorations from his funeral adorn the walls.

"My daughter was thinking about giving some of the things away, and I just said, 'I'd like to hold onto everything, for now'," Hughes requests.  Some of the memories, haunting yet humbling.  "I'll come over and pick up his blanket and, smell his blanket, sipper cups, I'll even pick it up and you can feel his chew marks, it just doesn't seem fair," he said, as he broke down in tears.

Hughes spends two days a week at Kaiden's burial site. It's a pain he wants no one else to face.

"I want justice for Kaiden in the end," Hughes cries.

Justice for an injustice, he says.  But if there's no penalty, Hughes says he'll try to never forget the laugh behind the biggest smile he ever knew.

Hughes told Maely that State investigators are looking into his complaint, though the state says investigators can't comment.

Meanwhile there were two malpractice complaints involving death and serious injury filed against  Dr. Lindsey, though both were dismissed.

After repeated efforts to reach Dr. Lindsey, WMBF News did speak with him, and were told he legally can't talk to us about any specific case. Lindsey says he could only talk to the patient directly because of laws on patient privacy.

Conway Medical Center released the following statement in regards to the WMBF News investigation into Kaiden's death:

Conway Medical Center is equipped and staffed to manage any acute emergency that presents at our facility.  A patient is assessed and interventions are carried out with the first priority being to stabilize the patient.  Our Emergency Medicine physicians may call upon various other medical specialists to help manage the acute emergency.  Once a patient is stabilized, if the care needed by the patient is not available at our medical center, arrangements are made to transfer them to the appropriate facility for such.

Conway Medical Center has a stringent review process of all care provided throughout the hospital, including our emergency department. We are also routinely reviewed by various outside organizations. A review of hospitals and the care they provide is readily available through various government regulatory agency websites.

To read reviews of your local hospital or doctor, click on the links to the left.

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