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Health Beat: Misdiagnosed

Health Beat: Misdiagnosed

SAN DIEGO - Today, 6-year-old Daniella Jennings can run and play, but a few months ago she was more like a limp rag doll, gravely ill and no one could figure out why.

One day, Jennings threw up so much blood that her mom, Marcia Maldonado, rushed her to the hospital.

"I can hear the nurses literally say, 'She's not going to make it. She's really weak,'" Maldonado recalled. "I'm just going crazy. [I was] like 'What do you mean she's not going to make it?'"

Maldonado wanted answers, and she got several. First, doctors said it was allergies. Then, it was mumps and an infection. Three doctors told her it was gastritis. Another said migraines. Then, a different doctor said he needed to split her jaw in half and cut out what he thought was a tumor in her throat.

"I'm just sitting in front of him thinking, 'This is really not happening to me,'" Maldonado said.

Something didn't seem right, so Maldonado took Jennings to yet another doctor. After three months of watching her little girl dying, she finally found what was wrong with her daughter.

"It's not a tumor. It's her main artery [and] it's about to burst," Maldonado explained. "I felt like we finally have the right diagnosis."

Dr. Alexander Khalessi discovered that Jennings had an aneurysm the size of a racquetball growing in her mouth. It happened when surgeons injured an artery during a routine tonsillectomy that had been performed six months earlier.

"If there was a breakthrough bleed from this aneurysm, you could bleed to death from your mouth," said Khalessi, director of endovascular neurosurgery, surgical director of NeuroCritical Care and assistant professor of neurosurgery, University of California, San Diego.

Khalessi filled the aneurysm with coils to prevent blood from entering. He then used stents to rebuild the artery. It was the first time this surgery had ever been performed that preserved the artery.

"You have a responsibility as a surgeon to use that opportunity to innovate for the benefit of your patient," Khalessi explained.

Jennings would have died if her previous doctor removed the mass.

"I would have literally lost my child," Maldonado said.

Between 10 and 20 percent of all medical cases are misdiagnosed. A report from the National Center for Policy Analyses found that 28 percent of diagnostic mistakes were life-threatening or resulted in death or permanent disability.

In a survey, 96 percent of doctors said diagnostic errors were preventable, and half reported that they encountered at least one a month.

"I've had experiences where I think that if that patient arrived at a different hospital, at a different time, had a different set of doctors, that outcome may have been different," Khalessi said.

Today, Jennings is back to being a kid.

"I'm thankful every day that she's at home, dancing and playing," Maldonado said.

Now, the mother and daughter can enjoy all the sweet moments together.

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