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How a change in hospital policy saved thousands of lives

A preventable infection, a little girl’s death, and a revolution in Baltimore.

Collage of photos of Nora
Collage of photos of Nora in her parents' home (Johnny Harris/Vox)

On November 22, 2013, a 3-year-old girl named Nora Bostrom died at a hospital in California.

Nora had pulmonary hypertension, a lung issue that can be deadly all on its own. But in the year leading up to her death, Nora also suffered from four infections that weakened her further.

The infections came from something called a central line. This is a tube that is inserted into a big vein in the body. It stays there permanently, and serves as an efficient way to pump medications into the bloodstream. But the line can also be an efficient way to pump infections into the bloodstream — and those infections can be deadly.

A decade ago, hundreds of thousands of people got central line infections every year. Now, the number is closer to 9,000. Still high, but a dramatic drop in such a short time span.

On this episode of The Impact, we’ll look at the doctor who found that central line infections are, in nearly all cases, completely preventable. Doctors just need to follow a checklist to make sure the line stays safe and sterile.

And we’ll explore why, if this infection is preventable, Nora suffered from four in her last year of life.

For more on this topic, read Sarah’s story on central line infections from 2015.

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