Family of five-year-old Rozalia Spadafora, who died in Canberra hospital, speaks out

Earlier this month, the family of five-year-old Rozalia Spadafora gave a harrowing account of the hours leading up to her death at Canberra Hospital.

Earlier this week, it was confirmed that the coroner was investigating the death, which occurred on July 5.

Rozalia’s mother Katrina Spadafora said the toddler had developed mild, flu-like symptoms in the days leading up to her death, but had tested negative for COVID-19 and a doctor prescribed antibiotics.

Ms Spadafora said her daughter later developed facial swelling and was prescribed steroids.

A few days later, on the morning of her fifth birthday, Ms. Spadafora said that Rozalia was “as pale – as white” and too listless and unwell to open presents with the family.

After she tested negative for COVID-19 again, the family took the girl to a doctor, who recommended she go to the emergency department at Canberra Hospital, where she could have blood tests.

Rozalia arrived at the ED at around 7:00 PM on July 4 with her mother and grandmother.

Hours of waiting as Rozalia’s condition deteriorates

A young girl poses with her hand on her hip.
Rozalia’s family says she was too sick and listless to open her birthday presents on July 4.(Delivered)

Ms Spadafora said when they arrived at the hospital the ward did not appear to be busy but it took over two hours for a nurse to tell them to wait another four hours and to leave if Rozalia “didn’t get so unwell”.

But Mrs. Spadafora said that Rozalia’s condition continued to deteriorate.

“She couldn’t sit up, she had to lie down,” she said.

Just before 10pm, Ms. Spadafora said they were taken to the pediatric ward of the ward, but they were not offered a bed.

About 45 minutes later, she said a nurse checked Rozalia’s temperature, blood sugar and oxygen saturation levels and they were offered a consultation room.

Ms Spadafora said that around 1am, Rozalia was given an oral rehydration solution and water – which made her vomit.

“We rang the bell for help, but no one came,” she said.

Ms Spadafora said a blood sample had been taken from her daughter at around 3am but apparently this was not enough for testing and another sample was taken an hour later.

A young girl with pigtails plays on the sand at the beach.
Rozalia and her family spent more than 24 hours in Canberra Hospital before her death, undergoing many tests and being moved from ward to ward.(Delivered)

At 6 a.m. the day after they arrived at the hospital, Rozalia was taken to the intensive care unit where she was given an intravenous drip, her blood pressure was checked and she was taken for a chest X-ray.

Two hours later, a nurse’s family was told that Rozalia had flu A and the young girl was taken back to the pediatric ward of the emergency department.

Ms Spadafora said they had also been told that Rozalia had an enlarged liver and would likely be in the hospital for several days.

“They kept saying ‘we’re in the best possible place,'” she said.

‘I asked if this was life-threatening’

At about noon on 5 July, Ms Spadadora said they had been transferred to a pediatric ward and said the muscles around Rozalia’s heart were inflamed, but as there was no cardiac pediatrician available, she had to be flown to Sydney for treatment.

“I asked if this was life-threatening – and I was told ‘no,'” she said.

She said that Rozalia had been transferred back to the intensive care unit.

Over the next few hours, the family said that Rozalia was seen by several doctors as preparations were made to fly her and her mother to Sydney.

Rozalia’s father was also allowed to visit them in the ward.

“I thought she would be fine,” said Mrs. Spadafora.

A few hours later, the family was informed that a helicopter was on its way from Sydney.

Cardiac arrest leads to tragedy

At about 7pm, Ms Spadafora said the family had been told the helicopter could not land at the hospital due to “a problem with the tarmac” and had to be diverted to Canberra airport.

A young girl gives her thumbs up while wearing a Parramatta Eels sweater.
Rozalia’s mother says the family was told that Rozalia had died of cardiac arrest caused by myocarditis.(Delivered)

A team of people arrived at the hospital to transport Rozalia to the airport, but Ms Spadafora said they were having trouble applying surveillance equipment to her daughter and she and her family were becoming increasingly upset.

“I started having a panic attack,” said Ms. Spadafora.

“I started to cry.

“We didn’t know what to do.”

Ms Spadafora said medical staff have discussed sedating Rozalia before her transit.

Shortly afterwards, Rozalia went into cardiac arrest.

“I got up and she just started having cramps,” Ms. Spadafora said.

Rozalia was chased out of the room and Ms Spadafora said medical personnel are administering CPR to her daughter.

About an hour later, Mrs. Spadafora said that the doctor had told them that Rozalia had died.

Within hours, the police arrived at the hospital and statements were taken from the family.

Ms Spadafora said they had been told that Rozalia had died of cardiac arrest caused by myocarditis – a rare inflammation of the heart muscle.

Investigation launched following condolences from the government

A framed photograph of a young girl with pigtails sits on a table.
The ACT’s health minister says her thoughts are with Rozalia’s family “at this very, very difficult time”.(ABC news: Harry Frost)

This week, the family received a letter from the ACT coroner’s office stating that an investigation was underway.

Ms Spadafora said they hadn’t heard from the hospital until Tuesday evening, when a doctor sent her a text message – with his condolences – informing them that news of Rozalia’s death would be forthcoming.

ABC News had sent a request for comment to Canberra Health Services a few hours earlier.

Ms Spadafora said she was “horrified” at the way the family had been treated by the hospital.

“I thought ‘why didn’t you help me when you can see how sick my daughter is?'” she said.

Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith expressed her condolences to the family.

“The death of a child is a tragedy and our thoughts are with the family at this very, very difficult time,” said Ms Stephen-Smith.

“I also want to assure people that the staff involved in this are getting support and the hospital is very aware that these staff are getting the debriefing and support they need.

“I was informed – as was the Acting Minister – that I was on leave at the time.

“We got advice very quickly on this matter, but I can’t go into the details because of privacy concerns, but also because of the investigations that are underway.”

Opposition health spokeswoman Leanne Castley met with the family yesterday.

“This family is heartbroken – this is truly tragic and I was happy to see a corona investigation coming,” said Ms Castley.

“I’m looking forward to seeing what happens there, but at the end of the day there is a family that is completely devastated and their little five-year-old girl isn’t home at the moment.”

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