Rx for errors: Drug error killed their little girl

ByABC News
February 25, 2008, 2:39 AM

— -- Emily Jerry was nearly ready to go home from a Cleveland hospital. The grapefruit-size tumor in her abdomen seemed gone, and the 2-year-old with blond ringlets and blue eyes was getting one last round of chemotherapy just to make sure.

Instead, the treatment killed her. A pharmacy technician at Rainbow Babies and Children's Hospital mixed Emily's chemotherapy drug with a saline solution 26 times above normal. The pharmacist on duty didn't catch the error. Soon after getting the drug, Emily was on life support. She died three days later, on March 1, 2006.

On Tuesday, a House bill that would set mandatory education, training and regulatory standards for all pharmacy technicians, is scheduled to be introduced by Rep. Steven LaTourette, R-Ohio. He calls it Emily's Act.

A similar proposal in Emily's home state, Ohio, is expected to be considered this year by state lawmakers. And next month, the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists plans a drive for tougher standards for technicians, who in many states need prove only that they are high school graduates with no criminal record.

Emily's parents, Kelly and Christopher Jerry, are at the forefront of the crusade for tougher standards for the workers typically responsible for entering prescriptions into computers, checking dosages and getting the correct drugs into medication containers. They say the circumstances of Emily's death lend urgency to their cause.

"It would have been a whole other story if the cancer would have been responsible," says Kelly Jerry, an activist and former school teacher in Concord Township, Ohio. "But to know that she died in this horrific way she did, we can't live with ourselves until we help make changes so this doesn't happen to another family."

Emily's parents say a USA TODAY series published earlier this month drew new attention to the cause by highlighting technician errors not caught by pharmacists.

Born in February 2004, Emily was diagnosed with a curable form of cancer when she was 18 months old. She underwent surgeries and four rounds of chemotherapy to eradicate the tumor growing from the base of her spine. The treatment worked, and Emily was expected to go home disease-free just after her second birthday.