Searching for Blame in a Boy’s DKA Death

From Utah comes a tragic story of Kaden Jones, a 13-year-old who died unexpectedly from diabetic complications the morning after his first day at basketball camp in July 2014. The story has received brief coverage in the Salt Lake Tribune, regional television news, and the local paper in the young man’s hometown of St. George.

There has been a wrongful death suit filed by the young man’s parents alleging negligence on the part of the basketball camp. Lawyers for the camp have countered that the young man and his parents bear responsibility for his death. Meanwhile, many readers of these news stories have decided to weigh in with their judgement despite not knowing what actually happened; some of the online comments have been brutal, especially towards a family that, for whatever reason, lost a child just a year ago.

In Utah, death certificates are protected against public disclosure for fifty years. Pleadings in civil cases carry something of a presumption of veracity, and in some jurisdictions, have to be supported by affidavit under oath. Even then, complaints are nothing more than allegations of fact, and answers come in the straightforward form of admissions or denials of facts. There really is no way to know who, if anyone, is ultimately to blame for this loss.

All we really know, or can surmise from the initial filings is this:

The young man had Type 1 diabetes and was under proper professional care. He had parents who understood his daily needs and submitted a medical release, general liability release, and medical history forms, as well as additional information on his medical condition to camp officials.

He and a buddy arrived at summer basketball camp at Westminster College, a private college in Utah, where he’d wanted to go for some time. The college fields varsity teams in basketball and seven other sports. It operates summer day and overnight youth camps at various ability levels in basketball and three other sports.

The young man began feeling nauseous shortly after getting to camp, sat out much of the day, skipped meals, may have skipped his insulin, and died the next morning of diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA).

What we know about DKA is that as it worsens, it does so rapidly, and the sufferer loses cognitive function –- the ability to understand what is happening. Often emergency hospital care with an insulin IV and electrolytes is needed to stabilize the system. What we do know about adolescents with diabetes is that “the competing distractions of young adult life often interfere with the requirements of successful diabetes management, including the need to maintain consistent medical care”, according to a 2011 ADA position paper on diabetes and teens. We also know that outside the circle of people with diabetes and their caregivers, Type 1 is a misunderstood illness, and there can be a lot of wrong decisions made by those not in the know when confronted by an episode of glycemic imbalance.

That’s it; that’s what we know. It will be up to the parties involved in the case or a jury to sort out the causes of this boy’s death and attribute fault. The only lesson we can take away right now is that there will always be the need for constant vigilance for the most vulnerable who are afflicted by Type 1. That, and that no parent should feel guilty for wanting to follow up “one more time” on their child’s well being at summer camp.

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Jim Cahill is a former staff writer for Insulin Nation and a former editor of Type 2 nation.

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