As Governor Abbott announces an easing of coronavirus restrictions in the state beginning this week, the rigid and sometimes misinterpreted rules of the COVID-19 response have had tragic consequences for some families.
One father says that coronavirus policies prevented him from seeing or advocating for his hospitalized son during a medical episode that has left the boy clinging to life in a Houston-area hospital.
Greg Degeyter’s two-year-old son Kenshin was born with Down syndrome and suffers from Hirschsprung’s Disease, a congenital condition that attacks the digestive tract of infants and young children, and which requires frequent medical intervention and careful monitoring.
In early April, Kenshin was admitted to Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston over concerns that at 18 pounds he was not gaining enough weight, and “dumping syndrome” was dangerously dehydrating him.
Under coronavirus protocols, the hospital only allowed one parent to attend inpatient minors, so Kenshin’s mother Rochelle stayed with him while his father Greg was not permitted to enter.
On April 5, the mother called Greg to say that Kenshin was experiencing fever, an accelerated heart rate, and obvious physical distress. The Degeyters say that their son was not examined by a doctor for nearly 8 hours.
Over the next 24 hours, Greg says he continued to wait helplessly outside while his son deteriorated. At one point his wife Rochelle called him screaming that the boy was dead.
“He’s dead! Come to the hospital!”
Later the Degeyters would learn that Klebsiella bacteria had escaped from the boy’s intestines into his bloodstream, and as it poisoned his body, his heart would stop three times. The boy remains in ICU, may have suffered brain damage, and if he survives will need amputation of one hand as well as of fingers on the other hand.
Greg Degeyter says that early intervention with antibiotics would have prevented the worst of the damage to Kenshin’s body, and believes had he been allowed to be in the hospital he could have better advocated for the boy and insisted on immediate attention to his condition.
Once Kenshin reached crisis mode, the hospital did permit Greg to enter, but later as the boy stabilized Greg was once again barred from entry.
Since then, Greg says the hospital has inconsistently applied the one parent rule, and that administrators have often miscommunicated to entry staff whether the father is permitted to see his son.
On one occasion, although he had been approved for entry via phone, Greg says personnel would not allow him in. After an emotional yelling match, the staff finally called on security, who advised that Greg did in fact have permission to enter.
An additional source of confusion over the one-parent policy stems from the time families must wait for a “parent swap.” The Degeyters say the hospital has insisted that once the mother has entered to be with the child, the family may not switch to the father for a full seven days.
“If my wife, who is expecting our second child, is exhausted and wants to come home to clean up and rest, I still cannot enter to take her place,” explained Greg. “Once I enter, she cannot come back for 7 days, so if I want to take over caring for Kenshin over the weekend while she rests, that is not allowed.”
Degeyter says that the HHS rules do not include the 7-day rule the hospital has imposed on his family.
“These coronavirus restrictions have led to confusion and inconsistent policies, and have interfered with my ability to advocate for my son’s best interest,” said Degeyter.
The ongoing debate over what Greg says is his right to see his son has led to further conflict with hospital staff over Kenshin’s care plans, including details of an Advance Directive agreement.
Greg also alleges that hospital administrators have continued to exclude the father from consultations over the boy’s condition and potential treatment.
Last Friday, Greg Degeyter filed a lawsuit against Texas Children’s Hospital and requested court-ordered unfettered access to his hospitalized son, but yesterday a judge denied his request for an emergency injunction.
Greg says he will also be filing grievances with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
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Holly Hansen is a freelance writer living in Cypress, Texas. Her former column, “All In Perspective” ran in The Georgetown Advocate, Jarrell Star Ledger, and The Hill Country News, and she has contributed to a variety of Texas digital media outlets. She graduated summa cum laude from the University of Central Florida with a degree in History, and in addition to writing about politics and policy, also writes about faith and culture.