Mother shares story with students in hopes of preventing fatal medical errors

April 15, 2016

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Sorrel King, a nationally renowned patient safety advocate, encouraged Penn State students planning to enter the health care industry to remember the story of her 18-month-old daughter who died due to medical errors.

“You guys are the new culture, so my goal is to inspire you to work harder and maybe remember this story I’m about to tell you when you go out into the real world and into the health care industry,” King said April 14 inside the Ruth Pike Auditorium at the Biobehavioral Health Building.

King presented the 19th annual Stanley P. Mayers Endowed Lecture, “Josie’s Story: Family-Centered Approaches to Patient Safety.”

In 2001, King’s daughter, Josie, died due to dehydration and an incorrectly administered drug while being treated at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. King, who later published the book “Josie’s Story” and co-founded the Josie King Foundation, is now an advocate for patient safety and promotes changes in the health care industry to prevent similar deaths.

Since Josie’s death, King has replayed “what if” scenarios in her mind repeatedly: What if different resources would have been available to her and her daughter? What if the doctors and nurses would have responded differently? What if she had responded differently when no one seemed to be listening to her concerns? In the end, King reached one conclusion.

“She didn’t die from doctors’ or nurses’ mistakes. … She died from something so simple and basic. … She died from a breakdown in communication. She died from a breakdown in the system,” King said. “Why does it have to be so hard? All we have to do is communicate. All we have to do is listen to each other; listen to the patient; listen to the family.”

The solution, King said, is to change the culture of the health care industry to prevent the estimated 98,000 deaths each year due to medical errors.

To help change the culture, King advises hospitals on pediatric rapid response teams, which patients or family members can activate if they feel the patient’s status is deteriorating and the case needs an outside review. Additionally, King has launched multiple initiatives through the Josie King Foundation.

For example, the foundation created journals for patients and nurses to document their day-to-day experiences and developed a program to help providers cope after the death of a patient due to a medical error. The foundation also issues awards across the country to providers for stopping potential medical errors.

Still, perhaps most importantly, King continues to share Josie’s story with the medical industry and students who are planning to enter the field.

“Sometimes it takes one real-life story to get into the hearts and minds of the very people who are going to turn this ship around,” King said. “Facts provide us with knowledge. Stories provide us with wisdom.”

The Wall Street Journal named “Josie’s Story” as one of the best health books in 2009. It is part of the curriculum in medical and nursing schools around the country.

The Mayers Lecture was created in honor of Stanley P. Mayers Jr., M.D., co-founder of Penn State’s undergraduate program in health policy and administration, who retired after a distinguished 26-year career with Penn State. Mayers served as the head of the Department of Health Policy and Administration for nine years and also in roles as associate dean for undergraduate studies and associate dean for academic studies in the College of Health and Human Development.

For more information on the Josie King Foundation, visit

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated April 15, 2016