Denise Jill Asaro, 69, was being treated for COVID-19 at HCA Houston Healthcare Kingwood. On June 26, she went into cardiac arrest. Medical staff attempted to resuscitate her with a defibrillator. While using the medical device, for unknown reasons it caught fire and caused an explosion. Asaro was severely burned and later died. It remains unclear if the fire contributed to her death.
"It was literally her entire upper torso that was burned horribly, to the point of having to have a closed casket," said Kristi Robbins, Asaro's niece. "Who would ever expect your relative to be burnt to a crisp in a hospital?"
Asaro was a married mother of two and a grandmother. On June 2, her youngest, Aaron, succumbed to COVID-19 at the age of 47. On June 20, Father's Day, Asaro's husband David, 70, died of the same disease.
Asaro, her son and her husband were among 10 family members who contracted the illness recently. In a Facebook post, her sister-in-law blamed their situation on the fact that all 10 of them were unvaccinated. (Related: Texas teen develops Guillain-Barre syndrome weeks after receiving first coronavirus vaccine dose.)
"Really all of us are speechless," said Robbins. "You just can't absorb it. You couldn't write a story like this and people believe you. It's just overwhelming."
Robbins was very close to Asaro. Aunt Jill, as Robbins called her, was a very big part of her life. She was there for Robbins since the day she was born. Now, Robbins is asking for prayers and demands answers from HCA Houston Healthcare.
In a statement, the hospital called the incident "tragic" and said, to protect patient confidentiality, it was unable to divulge any specific details about Asaro or the incident.
"The hospital and its medical staff take this matter very seriously. We have begun an internal investigation and are working with local authorities to assist with their investigation. Our current focus is on supporting the family."
"We remain committed to providing a safe and secure environment for all of our patients, visitors and colleagues."
The Montgomery County Forensic Services Department is conducting an autopsy to determine Asaro's cause and manner of death. The department wants to find out if Asaro died primarily from COVID-19 or if the injuries she sustained due to the fire and explosion contributed to her passing.
"We realize nobody would do that on purpose," said Robbins. "But at the same time, it was completely preventable. It should have never happened. There should be protocols in place about having equipment around oxygen."
"Our biggest concern is … that it doesn't happen to somebody else's family," Robbins added.
Defibrillators can save people's lives by providing electric shocks to their hearts. Patients who have to be revived using defibrillators survive resuscitation less often than many think, according to Chris Schabowsky, senior investigator for healthcare think tank ECRI Institute.
Schabowsky adds that defibrillator fires are rare, but can happen under two specific circumstances.
First, if the adhesive pads used to deliver the electric shock are not properly placed on the patient's chest. This can create a spark. Second, if the environment the defibrillator is used in is enriched with oxygen.
"We've seen situations like this occur – they're very rare, but they can occur," said Schabowsky. "It requires a lot of things to go wrong before something like this occurs."
Learn more about the many different medical accidents that occur around the world by reading the latest articles at HealthCoverage.news.