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When will it stop? and my other 20 questions

September 2nd, 2013 Leave a comment Go to comments
Heather Nichols

Heather Nichols


In mid August,  on the front page of the Bangor Daily News, I saw a stricken, young and vulnerable new Dad holding his beautiful new baby girl.  The story was about Heather Nichols, a first time Mom, who contracted Flesh Eating bacteria or Necrotizing Faciitis, after an episiotomy during delivery of her daughter.  One week after delivery, she died.  The few days leading to Heather’s death brought suffering and pain that nobody should have to endure.  This shouldn’t happen to anyone.



This tragedy brings tears to my eyes every time I hear or think about it.  Matt Nichols carried out his TV and newspaper interviews one day after his wife’s funeral.  He did it to raise awareness in the community about this horrible infection and how it can kills otherwise healthy young people, more specifically, his beloved wife.  His generosity and concern for the community astounds me.

How did this happen? Who is going to answer the hundreds of questions that Matt and his family have?  Who is going to answer this community’s questions? EMMC, the hospital where Healther delivered her baby and later died, hasn’t answered anything yet.  The shroud of secrecy has fallen.  Rather than secrecy, the better path is to join with the family and  community, and use this horrible tragedy as a way to educate everyone about these serious infections and ways to prevent them.  The Hospital would do well to follow Matt Nichol’s lead on fostering awareness.

Matt Nichols, his infant daughter, his family and this community  deserves answers.

1. Why is there only an internal investigation?

2. Is the Maine CDC or some other unbiased regulatory agency involved?

3. Where did this infection come from?

4. Could it have come from a contaminated environment, unsterile instruments, or poor sterile technique?

5. Could pre-delivery screening and decolonization for Strep A have helped, or could simple bathing with anti bacterial soap have helped?

6. Is Home delivery a safer alternative, and is episiotomy absolutely necessary?

7. Did caregivers miss early signs of infection?

8. Did Heather Nichols get the RIGHT CARE, at the RIGHT PLACE, at the RIGHT TIME?

9. Would Hyperbaric treatments have helped?

10. Has this tragic infection and death been reported to the Maine or National CDC, the Maine DHHS, the Joint Commission or other regulatory/oversight agencies?

11. Why isn’t  this tragedy being used as an educational opportunity for everyone, including EMMC staff?

12. Where is the transparency and accountability?

13. Were there enough qualified nurses on duty when Heather was a patient there (ie. appropriate nurse to patient ratios)

14. How many others have become infected while staying at EMMC (and other Maine Hospitals), with Necrotizing Faciitis, MRSA, C Diff  or other deadly infections?

15. How many have died because of infections contracted at EMMC, and other Maine Hospitals?

16. How many have become disabled,  maimed or disfigured by infections that were contracted at EMMC and other Maine Hospitals?

17. Why is there no detailed quality information on the Hospital website?

18. How can I learn detailed and real time facts  about Hospital and provider quality and safety when I am shopping here in Maine,  for healthcare services?  Existing public information is superficial and incomplete.

19. Would a community Patient and Family Advisory Council help to make patients safer, and to make healthcare more transparent?

20. How can we all (patients, families and caregivers) work together to make infections like Heather’s a thing of the past?

I had a lot of these same questions almost 5 years ago when my father contracted MRSA  (Methicillin Resistant Staph Aureus) at his community Hospital.  He died as a result.  My father’s preventable infection and death ignited a passion in me and I have worked as a volunteer Patient Safety Advocate and Activist since then.  There has been some progress in preventing some infections and in patient safety, but it obviously isn’t enough and it certainly is not fast enough. We shouldn’t have to ask the same questions today, that I asked 5 years ago.

I live in Bangor, ME.  EMMC is my hospital of choice.  I worked there for a total of around 20 years, off and on.  Many colleagues and friends continue to work there.  I know their dedication and also their grief and pain when something this tragic happens.  But, secrecy and image control are not the way to handle horrific outcomes like Heather’s.  Learning the “truth”  through Hospital gossip that leaks into the community is not acceptable and it is also a violation of the family’s right to privacy. Matt Nichols and his family get to decide what information will be shared and what will not,  but as far as I know,  they are not privy to the actual facts around Heather’s case.    Bringing in the family, listening to them, answering their questions, involving them in the investigation of the event, and being transparent are the only ways to handle this.  EMMC will never have a complete investigation until they ask the family what their observations were. Patients and families deserve the right to share what they heard, saw and went through.    EMMC has gone secret and silent…and that fosters distrust.  Struggling and grieving  families sue Hospitals when they don’t get the answers and other support that they need during their time of need.

We, as patients and families, must use our voices  to shine a light on the dark problem of healthcare harm and lack of transparency and accountability.  My place at the table with the new Maine Quality Forum Healthcare Associated Infections council gives me an opportunity to represent healthcare consumers and to invite and inform patients and their families to come and speak out during public comments.  Then next meeting is September 23, 9am at 211 Water Street in Augusta (Dirigo Health building).  Please come with your questions and concerns.  If you can’t make it, email me at kathydayrn@aol.com.

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  1. Danny Long
    September 2nd, 2013 at 12:23 | #1

    Such a terrible loss and the secrecy around it is heart breaking.

    I really do not have much to offer in comments except to show respect to the family. The cruelty of the hospital’s reaction is unforgivable.

    God Bless and may you find some peace….somehow.

  2. September 2nd, 2013 at 12:25 | #2

    Kathy, I admire your effort to speak up and raise these questions. I hope that hospital leaders in your community will share what they know so far so that everyone can learn from this tragedy, in hopes of preventing it from happening again. We know that before seat belts, too many MV accidents killed drivers, before DWI laws and MADD, too many victims died from drunk drivers, before helmets, too many died or became victims of brain injuries.

    We should all be asking what we can do to ensure that less, not more young, otherwise healthy people die or suffer from NF. NF deaths are on the rise. If you google it, it seems that every story is about someone who was otherwise “young, vibrant, athletic, fit, healthy”…in the prime of their life or even the very young.

    It seems that many victims are teachers or children. Is there something unique about this bacteria that makes it afflict those populations? Or is it the other way around? What about these populations causes this bacteria to harbor and be so destructive in these people? What about the women it has afflicted during childbirth? How about a national NF Task Force that can get to the bottom of these questions and put the word out about early recognition and treatment? Can we ask our CDC Leaders to take this on? Do they have the stats on how many people are afflicted or die of NF every year?

    So many unanswered questions.

  3. September 2nd, 2013 at 12:31 | #3

    This is a heartbreaking story. Heather and her family have paid too high a price for this opportuity to engage the Bangor community in more effective patient safety efforts. I am sad for this family, and my condolences to Matt, his daughter, and the rest of Heather’s family.

    Kathy, your 20 questions are exactly those which should be answered by EMMC.

  4. September 2nd, 2013 at 12:32 | #4

    I too was so overwhelmed by this story, I cant stop thinking about it. I have been sick that no large paper had anything written about this, I saw it, by chance, in the Bangor Maine paper.
    When you die from having a natural delivery of a baby, in a hospital, in America, we need to do something about this. How long can we pretend these are isolated occurrences ?

  5. September 2nd, 2013 at 13:26 | #5

    It is my expert operating room nursing experience that UNTIL the operating room organization i.e. AORN, ANA, the American College of Nurses, and ALL the State Boards of Nursing are required/mandated to stop the patient carnage that is in all facilities (all issues are hidden in all risk management offices in all healthcare facilities) …i.e. THEY KNOW WHAT IS GOING ON but they will not accept responsibily…….THEN AND ONLY THEN will patients be saved from infections, injuries, errors and deaths!! THEY know the truths …..THEY are the reason for escaltating horrific patient issues! However, NO ONE except myself has ever taken “THEM” to task…..and let me tell you all….I have suffered many terriable backlashes over the years to the present ….the backlashes were all from certain powerful nurses and powerful nursing organizations!!! The sad fact is that at the end of the day IT IS THE “patients” patients who suffer! THE NURSING SILENCE IS HORRIFIC and DEADLY…..my opinions, Helen M. French RN,BSN ( Amazon E book: Frenchies Hospital Survival Tips) ; Contact me only IF you want the TRUTHs: my private email is: jnfrench@ntelos.net

  6. Becky Collins
    September 2nd, 2013 at 22:00 | #6

    I am so glad that you wrote this article. As one of Heather’s best friends. Many news outlets took this story on and Bangor daily told it the best. One news story pretty much sickened me by the way their story was written making it sound like heather did not take care of herself. I actually asked many of your 20 questions in an email to the person who wrote the article. We all pray for Matt and the baby and we also pray for answers and pray that no other family has to go through what we have been put through. Because we live in a day in age where this should not happen to anyone. Thank you for writing this article. We hold this beautiful girl a little tighter now. Because a year ago I was making plans to see her mom and now I’m trying to figure out how to write her daughter a story about how awesome her mom was. Something no person should have to do.

  7. Terri Lewis
    September 2nd, 2013 at 22:42 | #7

    I read this story with more than passing interest. As I understand it, she had an epidural for childbirth. We know that many providers are using compounded medications from the secondary compounding manufacturers. In recent months, many of these are turning up with bacteria viruses and fungi. Strep has been tested in some and been positive. Someone needs to investigate what was used in her epidural, determine where it came from, and whether it was on a recall list. Given the immediacy of her circumstances, this is a real possibility.

  8. G. Marianne Heinrich-Perry
    September 3rd, 2013 at 08:47 | #8

    As usual ,you have responded , in this case,to the Bangor Daily News article about the MERSA death ,with astuteness and compassion.(Those 20 questions are clearly what needs to be considered in looking at this PREVENTABLE medical problem!) With all of taday’s medical savvy and training, how can this happen to a lovely young mother giving birth in a highly rated hospital? My heart goes out to the entire family who is in deep grief and no doubt disbelief as well.Clearly, transparency is not “an ought to be”, but A MUST BE expectation.
    Heather’s death is a shameful , sad and seemingly avoidable tragedy!!!

  9. Kathy
    September 3rd, 2013 at 14:50 | #9

    @Terri Lewis
    Terri, I don’t know if Heather had an epidural, but I do know that she had an episiotomy and that was where her infection started (see the BDN article). But, you are absolutely right in that there have been many dozens of infections from injectable compounds of late.

  10. Kathy
    September 3rd, 2013 at 14:54 | #10

    @G. Marianne Heinrich-Perry
    Thank you Marianne for your comment. I don’t believe that Heather had MRSA. She did however have Necrotizing Faciitis. The most common cause of that is a Strep A organism, which is the same organism that causes strep throat. In the case of NF, it grows out of control and destroys tissue. It is fast moving and deadly. It is also very painful and a lot of tissue has to be surgically removed. It is a horrible infection, and I was incredibly sad to read about Heather.

  11. April 7th, 2016 at 11:20 | #11


    NeutroPhase was introduced in late 2012, Most hospitals in Maine have refused to see medical reps by all kinds of smoke and mirrors. The patient who per perished from nf may been saved using NeutroPhase for lavage post sujrgery.

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