AUSTIN, Texas (KXAN) — Nearly two million Americans will pick up infections at the hospital this year, often antibiotic-resistant superbugs that are hard to disinfect and can potentially be fatal.
That has apparently happened to an eight-year-old Westlake boy. During the time he was receiving chemotherapy for his brain cancer, he got c-Diff, a superbug that kills one in ten people who get it, and lingers on surfaces for months. But Aydan Chapman is safely home now, his entire house disinfected by a superbug-zapping robot.
The San Antonio-based company Xenex recently sold its disinfecting robots to St. Davids in Austin. Within minutes, they can disinfect a hospital room for anything from Ebola, c-Diff, MRSA, norovirus, even Anthrax.
Also this fall, Aydan learned that he had acquired c-Diff around the time of his chemo treatment at Dell Children’s Medical Center. Dell confirmed the infection. Aydan had already endured four brain tumors since 2009, now he is enduring chemo and strong antibiotics for the superbug.
Bryce Chapman, Aydan’s father, is hearing impaired but told KXAN through a sign reader, “It was extremely frustrating to see what was happening with him. It was actually two-to-three weeks before we learned he had the c-Diff, so he had gone through so much at this point. It felt like he was getting hit by more than one thing.”
Xenex learned of what happened. In four short years they have sold the UVC emitting robots to 300 hospitals, including M.D. Anderson, the Dallas Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas where an Ebola patient died, to the UCLA Medical Center and others.
Occasionally they do pro bono work in homes and high schools. On Friday they disinfected Aydan’s home, zapping it from top to bottom in one afternoon. Xenex vice president Ryan N. Williams believes hospitals too often shortchange their cleaning efforts.
“Hospitals are not doing the best they can to be able to eliminate these infections. The incidents of these superbugs and resistant bacteria in the environment has been on the rise. Traditional cleaning and the incidents of human error and oversight is just not good enough,” he said.
Aydan, a third grader, homeschools for now, but he and his family rest easier knowing that while he continues his chemo, c-Diff may be the least of his worries.
“Yes, it’s absolutely given us peace of mind. Definitely. Now we know our house is peaceful and clean for Aydan,” Bryce Chapman said.
When asked how he is feeling these days, Aydan said “I don’t know how to explain it.”
He nodded when asked if he misses school, “I don’t get to see my friends and I don’t get to do the regular things I do at school.” His favorite part of school? “Recess, and math, because I’m really good at it.”
Taking a deeper look at the growing problem of hospital infections, c-Diff is the most common infection caught in American hospitals. It leads to 14,000 deaths a year. In a major study, the University of Texas College of Pharmacy found c-Diff infections doubled in the U.S. between 2001 and 2010, rising from 4.5 patients per thousand visits, to 8.2 patients.
One question is: can you sue?
Jay Winkler, an Austin malpractice attorney for 34 years, said he has seen very few winners, in part because of a decades-old Texas law that allows hospitals to investigate themselves and keep the findings secret.
“We have to prove negligence and the barrier to finding out what really happened is the peer review privilege so that the proof that might be available for us is hidden behind a veil of secrecy.”
Just last year President Obama signed an executive order calling for a national strategy to combat antibiotic resistant bacteria, the so-called superbugs.