01.13.2022

Could Her Father’s Life Have Been Saved?

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CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: And next, Omicron has sent hospitalizations in the United States to record levels. President Joe Biden says that his administration will order another 500 million at-home tests and distribute free masks. But another issue has also been surfacing, 78-year-old Dale Weeks was fully vaccinated and boosted but recently he passed away not from COVID, but from a series of events in local hospitals that were overwhelmed with COVID cases. His daughter, Julie Simanski, sat down with Michel Martin to share her frustrations.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHEL MARTIN, CONTRIBUTOR: Thanks, Christiane. Julie Simanski, thank you so much for talking with us. I’m sorry for your loss.

JULIE SIMANSKI, DAUGHTER OF DALE WEEKS: Yes, it’s been difficult this December, especially with the holidays and not having our dad around. I think what makes it all the more tough is that you have this nagging feeling that perhaps if something had been done differently, he might still be around.

MARTIN: Just tell me about him it for a minute, would you? I never got to meet him. So, can you just tell me about him?

SIMANSKI: My dad was kind man. He was an educator. He was a craftsman. He was a dad, a grandfather. And I think what strikes me most about my dad is he was a good neighbor. He was always trying to help the community, help the people around him. If there was a flooded basement, dad was there to help. If there — he was the parade master in his little town that he was from for several years. He was just a kind yet very humble man.

MARTIN: So, he started feeling poorly, as I understand, the night of the beginning of November of last year. Is that right? What was going on?

SIMANSKI: So, every year we have a big birthday party for my daughter. She’s disabled. And so, we’ve kind of made it a family tradition to have a costume Halloween party around her birthday time. And so, we were going to have that the weekend of Halloween. And he had called me a day or two beforehand and said that he just hadn’t been feeling well. He had just gotten boosted. So, he thought perhaps that maybe it was that was that he was just feeling wonky because of the booster. And his COVID test was negative. So, it really wasn’t until the night of November 1st that his wife had called us and said that he had been shaking like chills and he had fallen a couple times. And so, she was very concerned.

MARTIN: So, the night of November 1st, as I understand it, his wife took him to the hospital. Where did she take him?

SIMANSKI: Yes, she was concerned enough that she thought she needed to bring him over to the emergency room in Centerville. And Centerville is a small hospital. And at that point, they were having some pretty dramatic staffing issues. The doctors had done a CT scan at Centerville and had also done a blood culture. They said he was septic and that he needed to have IV antibiotics to at least start the preliminary treatment. The thing of it was, they weren’t — they didn’t have the staffing nor did they think that they could put the right mix of the antibiotics together. So, that’s when he was sent to Newton. At Newton, it is a very small hospital. And so, nurse practitioners were on the hospital. But I will give them credit, the nurse practitioner that initially treated him said that she thought that he was septic and that they were going to start giving him some broad-spectrum antibiotics and that she thought that perhaps the source of the infection was a stint that he had put in at Iowa City about five or six years ago.

MARTIN: Do I have it right that they then started looking for a more advanced hospital setting to transfer him to. Is that right?

SIMANSKI: That is correct. And so, in Iowa, we have Iowa City, which is the university hospitals, and we also have Des Moines, which has three major hospitals in it. And when the nurse practitioner was looking to send him out for a more specialized care, her response from all of those hospitals was they were full and they it could not take him at this time.

MARTIN: And why were there no beds available?

SIMANSKI: We in Iowa have not done well in mitigating the virus. And so, currently, in Polk County, where I live, the positivity rate is 23 percent. We do not have mask mandates in the schools, in the communities. We — the legislator just announced yesterday that they were it going to push back on the vaccine mandate being suggested by the Biden administration. And so, consequently, we have a great number of people in Iowa who are not vaccinated. And if you look at the breakdown of the numbers, 80 percent of people in hospitals right now are unvaccinated and 83 percent in the ICUs are unvaccinated. So, I contend that it was the COVID patients that were needing to breathe, that needed a bed because their conditions had deteriorated so greatly that were taking the resources away from my dad.

MARTIN: How long did it take before he finally got to a higher-level hospital that could offer a higher level of care?

SIMANSKI: It took 15 days. So, every day we would call. So, are you going to be moved, dad? No, they still don’t have any beds. He was told at one point that he was 22nd on the list to get into the hospital.

MARTIN: So, he waited 15 days before he was finally — before he finally went to the University of Iowa. And then, I — it’s my understanding that he had to wait even after that to finally have the surgery. What were they saying to you during all this time? Was anybody saying anything to you about it?

SIMANSKI: Well, we had questioned the hospital and said, how is it that this man has a life-threatening illness and he’s not a priority? And the hospital responded to us and said that they considered dad’s condition stable. Because he was on an IV antibiotic, he wasn’t having a heart attack, he heavy wasn’t having difficulty breathing, that they considered that stable. And so, once that he got to the hospital, primarily because Newton had a different tracking system than the University of Iowa did, it took the University of Iowa at least four to five days to get up to speed. So, the surgery was typically an eight to 10-hour surgery. What they needed is they needed to go into the aorta clip out the infected tissue and then replace it with cadaver aorta. And the surgery ended up lasting 17 hours. In fact, the surgeon said that in her 16 years of practice, it was one of the worst infections that she had ever seen.

MARTIN: And then, what happened?

SIMANSKI: My sister and I drove over to Iowa City and when we got there, the nurse was fairly optimistic about him. He was on a ventilator. He was sedated. And — however, by afternoon, his numbers started not looking good and that they thought the infection had gotten into another part of his body. We left the hospital around 5:00 after visiting hours. And within an hour, the hospital called us back and said that he would need to have surgery again. That was a rather quick surgery. But by about 6:00 that morning, the hospital had called again and said that through the evening, he had deteriorated and they were anticipating having to open him up again to see if there was more infection. And at that point, we had asked our stepmother if my dad had a DNR because we just didn’t know if this was something that was going to be able to be remedied. It did not appear like it was a good situation. And so, she called the priest and they did his last rights. We let him go a little before noon on November 28th.

MARTIN: I’m sorry.

SIMANSKI: Yes.

MARTIN: Julie, do you feel that had he gotten the care he needed sooner, that this would not have happened?

SIMANSKI: Granted. Sepsis is a life-threatening condition and especially for someone who is 78 years old. It is not always something that can be solved. What nags at my siblings and I most is when you look at — I’m a professor, so I do a lot of reading and research and I had looked up everything I could about dad’s condition, and one of the articles specifically say — stated that if this was treated early, the mortality rate goes down significantly. And so, I just — I think that had he gotten that opportunity to have specialized care earlier rather than two weeks into the illness, and then another week getting up to speed that thing may have turned out differently. It’s a matter of what ifs.

MARTIN: Do you blame the hospital for this? I mean, do you think they did all that they could dos?

SIMANSKI: I was frustrated with the hospital. Shortly after my dad had passed, one of the surgeons came into his room and said, I’m really sorry about your dad, but he really needed specialized care. And that just kind of hit me in the gut because that is something that we had been pressing and arguing for for two weeks. Later, we talked to the second surgeon and she was very sympathetic and said, you know, your dad’s condition is something that we typically would be able to transfer in and treat almost immediately two years ago. But within the last 18 months to two years, we have not been able to take on the cases that we normally do.

MARTIN: Well, as you might imagine, you know, people have — outside of your community have heard about this. And a number of major news organizations have written about this. And a spokeswoman with MercyOne, that’s the hospital system that cared for your dad in Newton, issued a statement to “The Washington Post,” for example, who said that — she said, look, she didn’t want to get into the specifics of the case, but she said that a large percentage of COVID-19 patients at MercyOne Hospital are unvaccinated. She said, in addition to an increased number of COVID-19 cases and spread of the Delta and Omicron variants, hospitals across the country are dealing traumas and experiencing multiple types of illness and this is coupled with reduced number of staff to care for patients and that this is straining available resources and contributing to the delays in care or other complications for patients. And as you pointed out that 80 percent of the hospitalized COVID-19 patients in the state are unvaccinated and an even larger percentage are in these intensive care units. And so, I mean, I don’t want to put words in your mouth, but I’m just saying, you have to have feelings about that.

SIMANSKI: I call it maddening grief. It is — it angers me. Iowa claims to be the State of Iowa nice. Where we will reach out, stops, if someone is on the side of the road. Yet, this situation does not describe Iowa nice in the least. And I always say my dad was a good neighbor. My dad helped people. And people are not being good neighbors to one another. At times I am at a loss as to why people are not getting vaccinated. It — I just can’t get in that mind set of being that self-centered that you can’t think beyond yourself and know that if you get sick, it’s going to impact some other people, whether directly or indirectly.

MARTIN: I understand that you have been hearing from other people who have gone through similar things. For example, there’s a young lady in Cullman, Alabama, Raven DeMonia, whose dad, back in August. suffered a cardiac event and went to the local regional hospital who also couldn’t give the level of care that he needed. I understand that the hospital there called 43 hospitals in three states and finally had to air lift him 200 miles away to Mississippi and he didn’t make it either. And Alabama also has, you know, one of the worst vaccination rates in the country. It’s under 50 percent, right? And Iowa is also trailing. Are you hearing from families, families like Raven’s, about their experiences?

SIMANSKI: Raven reached out to our family shortly after the article in “The Washington Post.” And so, we have been corresponding with her since. And we were sharing the idea that, you know, her father’s death happened in August. And it was at that point that you thought, really, this was unimaginable. That a family would need to reach out to 43 different hospitals to find their loved one care. And this was in August. And then, my dad’s death was in November and still things haven’t been remedies, still things haven’t been set into people yet, which is really frustrating.

MARTIN: You have a chance — and I understand that this is still kind of very fresh with the family, but I just wondered if you had a chance to talk to anybody who is still resisting getting vaccinated. What do you think you might say?

SIMANSKI: You know, on my social media page, I have tried to not be political. I have tried to make it all happy and dogs and family and whatever. But I have decided now that I’m not holding back anymore. That this is something that needs to be stated. That people need to be aware of it. Perhaps it’s actually knowing a person that’s gone through this that will change someone’s mind. I know that when I posted, I have a Twitter account, and when I posted after this about my dad’s death and my frustration with the hospitals being clogged up, I got over 8,000 responses. And a lot of people were like, yes, something needs to change. And I concur. We need to think about how are we giving care to people, how are we triaging care, is it really fair that my dad and Raven’s dad were sacrifices to those people who make the choice not to get vaccinated. I just hope and pray that people will take our story to heart and will re- examine why it is that they have chosen not to be vaccinated knowing that it could impact themselves, their family members, that it could indirectly impact members of their own community.

MARTIN: Julie Simanski, one of the daugthers of Dale Weeks, thank you so much for talking with us.

SIMANSKI: You’re welcome.

About This Episode EXPAND

Michael Phelps speaks about the upcoming Olympics and his struggles with mental health. Max Foster discusses Britain’s Prince Andrew, who has been stripped of his military titles and his royal patronages. Dmitri Trenin gives insight into Russia’s next moves. Dale Weeks died after waiting 15 days for specialized care; his daughter blames the unvaccinated COVID-19 patients.

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