Austin family says toddler was turned away from hospital due to lack of space in pediatric ICU

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — After a brief scare in a local pediatric intensive care unit, an Austin couple is sharing their message: get vaccinated and wear a mask.

Kevin Karaffa, whose 22-month-old daughter was recently diagnosed with a viral respiratory infection, claims he was turned away from an Austin-area hospital because there was no space. Luckily, he says his family received one of the last beds in the Dell Children’s Pediatric Intensive Care Unit.

Three hours later, Karaffa says a 10-month-old took the final PICU bed next door. He says a Dell Children’s nurse informed them that there were no more available PICU beds in the area.

“My daughter responded well to treatment, so they sent us to the recovery floor this morning since Dell Children’s needed the ICU bed so badly,” Karaffa said. “This is scary and I think Austinites ought to know that, just like Dallas’ Judge Jenkins said: if your child needs critical care, [they] will have to wait for another child to get better or die before a PICU bed will be available in Travis County.”

A toddler recently received one of the final PICU beds in the area, one family says (Courtesy of Kevin Karaffa)

KXAN has reached out to all of the local hospital systems to get an update on capacity for ICU beds for both children and adults as well as additional context into how many beds are being treated with COVID-19 patients versus other illnesses. We have not heard back yet; this story will be updated to reflect the response.

On Monday, Amanda Norwood, the medical director for the Williamson County & Cities Health District told the Leander Independent School District that there was only one remaining PICU for the entire 11-county trauma service area.

Other healthcare and urgent care providers are also under high strain. A glimpse online shows that the Texas MedClinic in Round Rock is currently experiencing walk-in wait times of more than five hours. A spokesperson for the clinic group said wait times will reset with each day, and those needing an appointment urgently will still likely see see a doctor when they walk in.

The toddler was diagnosed with a viral respiratory infection. She was able to recover quickly and no longer occupies the PICU bed, the family says (Courtesy of Kevin Karaffa)

“We are currently seeing a high volume of patients due to the recent spike of COVID-19 in our communities, which is causing longer than normal wait times to see a provider,” a Texas MedClinic message reads. “Our teams are doing their best to treat every patient well.”

Dr. David Gude, the chief operating officer for Texas MedClinic, said that there has been unsustainable demand for COVID testing in the area, which harms the clinic’s ability to treat other serious illnesses.

Karaffa said he wants to share his story because his daughter, whose illness was not COVID-related, almost didn’t receive the treatment she needed due to lack of hospital space. He said if everyone who is eligible receives their vaccination, it might help alleviate capacity issues in the area.

He said its a problem that could be solved by families taking extra precautions.

“For their own sake and the sake of their loved ones, get vaccinated and wear a mask, even if you have been vaccinated,” Dr. Gude said.

“Everyone is so entrenched in their belief until it is their own child that it almost put our daughter at risk,” Karaffa said.

Reach KXAN’s Education Reporter Alex Caprariello by email at alexc@kxan.com or by phone at 512-703-5365, or find him on Twitter and Facebook.

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