Actor's Anguish: Quaid Twins' Overdose Highlights Deadly Effect of Hospital Errors

Actor Dennis Quaid has spent the past four months trying to make sense of the hospital error that almost killed his newborn twins last year, he told 60 Minutes Sunday.

Quaid’s twins were hospitalized at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles last November for treatment for a staph infection. They received a dangerous overdose of the blood-thinning drug Heparin.

It wasn't the first time such a mistake had been made. In 2006, six newborns at Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis were given an overdose of the same blood-thinning drug and three died.

Quaids twins, Zoe Grace and Thomas Boone, recovered from the overdose — they were given 10,000 units of Heparin, rather than the 10 units they were supposed to get.

Quaid and his wife Kimberly Buffington have sued Baxter, the maker of Heparin, and are in the process of setting up a foundation to fight the problem of hospital errors, Quaid told 60 Minutes, adding that he hoped that Cedars Sinai would also take a lead in fighting hospital errors.

Alice Garner, associate neonatologist at Long Island College Hospital in Brooklyn Heights, N.Y., told in November that all premature babies get Heparin in their IV catheters to prevent clotting.

"Heparin is used because the IV lines are so tiny," she said. "It’s necessary for the babies to survive."

Garner said an overdose of drug can be devastating causing babies to bleed out from multiple areas in the body.

“If they get a large dose, they may bleed because their body is not going to be able to clot and this can cause all kinds of problems,” she said. “It's really devastating if you bleed in your brain. You can also bleed in your lungs, in your GI tract, you can bleed anywhere."

Garner said the mistake may have occurred because hospital pharmacies often stock adult and infant doses of medications, including Heparin.

"The error could occur at any stage," she said. "Some places have a pharmacy that prepares the IV fluids. Other places, the nurses do it. So it just depends on who prepares the IV fluids."

Garner said hospitals must work to eliminate mistakes, especially those involving the tiniest of patients.

"You have to try to have the right vials in the right areas so that mistake doesn't happen," she said. "Especially with newborns, it's extremely important because adult doses are so much higher."

Hospital errors do not just affect infants. The Institute of Medicine of the National Academies estimates that about 1.5 million patients are victims of hospital errors each year.

A study from health care ratings company HealthGrades found there were more than 1.16 million safety incidents involving Medicare patients between 2003 and 2005. During that three-year period, there also were 247,662 potentially preventable deaths involving Medicare patients, the study found.

The Bush administration in August announced that Medicare no longer would pay for preventable hospital errors including injuries and infections.

Patients develop 1.7 million infections in hospitals each year and infections kill about 99,000 people a year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Quaid also has a son with his former wife, actress Meg Ryan. He starred in "Great Balls of Fire!," "Any Given Sunday," and other films.