Let me start by saying, Savannah’s death is a tragedy, and I pray for her family and her friends. I hope this post might help shed light upon what caused her death.
A friend of mine posted comments regarding a blog she read about a 9 year old girl who was run to death by her grandmother (Joyce Garrard) and step mother (Jessica Hardin). When I read the title, I reacted immediately like I’m sure everybody did. I believed that these abusive people needed to pay for their crime, then I read further.
The girl was forced to run for three hours because she had eaten a candy bar! Wow, this was definitely abusive. After running for three hours, she apparently went into a seizure. At this point, the step mother (who was 9 months pregnant) and paternal grandmother called 911.
This happened on a Friday afternoon and evening, and the girl died on the following Monday while in the hospital.
The autopsy revealed that she was dehydrated and had low sodium at the time of her death.
The report also stated that Savannah had a medical condition that involved her urinary system that required her to have monthly doctor’s visits. Apparently, eating chocolate could cause her serious complications which provoked the paternal grandmother into punishing her with running.
The step mother and grandmother are being charged with murder. The grandmother is being charged with capital murder, so if she is convicted, she will face the death penalty.
Most of the information I’ve cited comes from the following article:
My question is: what really happened to Savannah Hardin?
I have very limited information regarding her personal story, but I have a lot of information regarding hyponatremia. (Please see all of my posts regarding hyponatremia to find out more about this very common metabolic condition, and its life threatening consequences).
I really believe that her death was caused by or contributed to by medical malpractice or at the very least lack of appropriate medical care.
When I read the article regarding Savannah, so many questions come to mind. Did the women give the child water while she ran?
It is commonly believed that a person can exercise for long periods of time if they are provided water. (This is the case with many school athletic programs who push children to the extreme every year as long as they provide water breaks every 20 minutes.
Most people don’t realize how dangerous water is when exercising. When a person sweats, they release large amounts of salt through their sweat. If they proceed to drink large amounts of water, this will further dilute their blood sodium levels. It is so dangerous.
If Savannah’s guardians provided her water instead of an electrolyte based refreshment, like Gatorade, then this could have caused her sodium levels to drop dangerously low.
To further complicate her condition, Savannah had a urinary disorder/disease. Depending on what type of disease she had, this might have contributed to her ability to develop low sodium.
The basic symptoms of severe dehydration and hyponatremia are the same: headache, nausea, vomiting, muscle cramps, seizures, dizziness, delirium and unconsciousness. Some of these symptoms may occur or all of these symptoms may occur. A big differentiation regarding those with dehydration is that they stop sweating.
Dehydration rarely causes seizures though, so I believe that when Savannah experienced seizures after running, it was because she was hyponatremic not dehydrated. It would be extremely difficult to determine without reviewing all of her medical records and questioning her family.
If her family was providing her with water, in combination with her physical condition and intense exercise, this would have been the perfect storm leading to her developing hyponatremia.
Why do I think there could have been medical malpractice?
It has been recognized that the standard treatment at the time of hospitalization for dehydration is IV fluids. These fluids tend to not contain sodium at all. If a person is treated with these nonsaline fluids and they actually have hyponatremia, then this treatment can be fatal.
It dilutes already diluted blood sodium levels. This would cause brain stem and cerebral swelling, further seizures, coma and brain death.
By the time the hospital receives the lab work showing low blood sodium levels, it is already too late to change the IV fluids to a low sodium based fluid, especially in children.
Please read the following information regarding the susceptibility of children for hyponatremia and how it is supposed that it is being caused mostly by hospital malpractice:
It has now become apparent that the majority of hospital-acquired hyponatremia in children is iatrogenic and due in large part to the administration of hypotonic fluids to patients with elevated arginine vasopressin levels. Recent prospective studies have demonstrated that administration of 0.9% sodium chloride in maintenance fluids can prevent the development of hyponatremia. Risk factors, such as hypoxia and central nervous system (CNS) involvement, have been identified for the development of hyponatremic encephalopathy, which can lead to neurologic injury at mildly hyponatremic values. It has also become apparent that both children and adult patients are dying from symptomatic hyponatremia due to inadequate therapy. We have proposed the use of intermittent intravenous bolus therapy with 3% sodium chloride, 2 cc/kg with a maximum of 100 cc, to rapidly reverse CNS symptoms and at the same time avoid the possibility of overcorrection of hyponatremia.
This same research paper also recognizes that most children that develop it are inflicted by an underlying urinary condition:
In order for hyponatremia to develop, there must typically be a relative excess of free water in conjunction with an underlying condition that impairs the kidney’s ability to excrete free water (see Table 2). Excretion of free water will be impaired when there is either (1) a marked reduction in glomerular filtration rate, (2) renal hypoperfusion, or (3) arginine vasopressin (AVP) excess. Most cases of hyponatremia are the result of increased AVP production.
The paper discusses what I mentioned above regarding how the symptoms for the cerebral edema in relation to hyponatremia can easily be diagnosed as other conditions, such as dehydration:
Hyponatremic encephalopathy can be difficult to recognize, as the presenting symptoms are variable and can be nonspecific (see Table 3). The only universal presenting features of hyponatremic encephalopathy are headache, nausea, vomiting, and lethargy. These symptoms can easily be overlooked, as they occur in a variety of conditions. There must be a high index of suspicion for diagnosing hyponatremic encephalopathy, as the progression from mild to advanced symptoms can be abrupt and does not follow a consistent progression.
The information that is quoted above comes from:
Now, here’s the take home message from the above article: if your child is being treated for ANYTHING in the hospital be sure they receive .9% saline IV fluids.
I believe the hospital will be determined at least partially responsible for Savannah’s death. If the hospital had treated her for hyponatremia instead of dehydration in the beginning, Savannah might still be alive, and the reason I believe that they did not treat her for hyponatremia was because her autopsy showed that she was hyponatremic after being in the hospital for three days. The media also implied that she was hospitalized for dehydration.
Please do not mistake that I condone the punishment the girl received: I DON’T. I really believe her punishment was harsh, but I am almost positive that her grandmother and step mother did not intend to cause her death, and I further believe that having the girl run that long did not DIRECTLY cause her death. It was a series of unfortunate events complicated by common ignorance, a medical condition, and the hospital incorrectly treating Savnnah for dehydration instead of hyponatremia.
We live in a democratic society, in which a person is presumed innocent until proven guilty. In our country, this has changed. We now get our information from the press, and we are quick to become the jury and the judge in such cases. I wonder if it will be a matter of time before we regress to a time where we will prosecute a person without a trial. This seems especially true in cases that involve children.
Who needs a judge or a jury, we have the press!
It is easy for me to sit back and criticize people for this type of reaction, but I am the same way. I read a story about a woman who microwaved her baby to death while in a drugged stupor, and my first reaction is that woman deserves to die a horrific death.
However, I refuse to read what the press publishes and believe that it is the whole story.
I may have several ideas as to what happened to Savannah, but it’s based on my very limited information. In order to know exactly what happened to her, a person needs to know: how long she ran; if she was provided fluids and what kind while she ran; what the treatment was that she received when she was transported in the ambulance and at the hospital; did the hospital recognize that she was hyponatremic and/or how long did it take for them to figure it out; what type of medical condition did she have and what was her urine osmolity?
If you are reading this, I pray that you pass this information along. It’s important that people know and understand the dangers involved with hyponatremia, especially regarding children. The more people realize the threat, the more pressure there is on a hospital to change their procedures for dehydration, and the fewer the number of children who will die or be forever brain damaged from hyponatremia.
UPDATE: According to news sources like the Huffington Post and ABC news, Jessica Hardin (Savannah’s Step-mother) is in the process of working out a deal with the prosecutors. Hopefully, the charges will be reduced, or her bail will be dropped to $500,000.
I do believe that there was a medical condition that caused Savannah to suffer from hyponatremia and that led to her death. I am hopeful that the charges will be dropped completely if it was, but unfortunately, innocence comes with a price.