Alberta family search for answers in girl's death

A couple in Fort McMurray is still trying to find out why their 10-year-old daughter died 1½ years ago after doctors assured them she was fine.

Karen and Calvin Clark say they were told repeatedly by doctors in Edmonton and Fort McMurray that there was nothing wrong with their daughter, Erica, when she fell ill in January 2011.

She was vomiting a lot. Initially they thought she had a flu. But she wasn't getting any better.

Erica was having a hard time eating and kept throwing up. She felt lethargic and had lost 30 pounds over two months, her parents said. Doctors found nothing unusual.

"They just said it was a virus," Calvin Clark said. "They'd done a urine test, maybe even a blood test. Everything came back fine."

But Erica kept throwing up, so the Clarks made a decision.

"I said to Karen ... we got to take her to Edmonton," Calvin Clark said. "We can't take this any more and people were saying, too, 'Take her to Edmonton — take her to the Stollery (Children's Hospital) and be guaranteed they'll get to the bottom.'"

For five days, Erica was in and out of the Stollery — first in emergency, then to see specialist. The little girl underwent more tests. Then the couple was told to take her home.

"They said no, she was good to go," Karen Clark said. "Nothing wrong."

Erica's condition continued to deteriorate when they returned to Fort McMurray. She was finally admitted to hospital, but died when her organs failed and her heart stopped. Four attempts at resuscitating her were unsuccessful.

"We actually never really got to say goodbye to her," Karen Clark said. "She had said to Calvin earlier in the day, she said 'I don't want to die Daddy.' "And then she did tell a nurse later that she was going to (die)."

"She was such a special child," she said. "She touched the life of everybody that she met. She was very cuddly."

The autopsy report indicated Erica had a "baffling clinical presentation" and hinted at a genetic disorder. But the family is still seeking answers.

They say they've tried to get answers, to find out why Erica was so ill, and why nobody seemed to believe them.

"I'm just having a hard, terribly hard time," said Calvin Clark. "It just seems like we've had no closure.

"I'm just having a hard time with the doctors that did see her, the doctors that we explained to about the 30 pound weight loss, the cold to touch, the throwing up all the time.

"If you tell a doctor that and they're not finding something, wouldn't you think they'd take that extra mile and say, "Okay, we're going to put this little girl in because of what you're telling us.'"

"But that never happened," he said. "Only after it was too late."

Alberta Health Services said it has been in constant communication with the Clarks about their daughter's case.

However within 30 minutes of CBC News approaching the province about Erica's death, the Clarks received a call from the specialist Erica saw at the Stollery, who arranged for a meeting Tuesday —the first time they've heard from anyone at the Stollery since Erica died, they said.

AHS said a quality assurance review is underway to look at what happened with Erica's care and the results will be shared with the Clarks once it's completed.

AHS also said it has brought in outside experts to look at the case.

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