Pennsylvania Physician Assistant Loses Certification Due To Salt Overdose

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Originally Published Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (PA); February 5, 1998; Section: LOCAL; Edition: SOONER; Page: B-1

Steve Twedt, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

A physician’s assistant who in 1993 mistakenly ordered a fatal overdose of salt for a 3-year-old transplant patient at Children’s Hospital has seen her certificate suspended.

Deborah S. Beatty of Latrobe faces a two-month suspension, followed by 22 months of probation, in an agreement she reached with the state medical board. She must also undergo 50 hours of medical education and reimburse the state for its $1,500 investigation costs. Beatty could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Two physicians, Dr. Jorge Reyes, now director of Children’s transplant program, and Dr. Mohammad Farrukh Ali Khan, had a formal hearing Jan. 13 in Harrisburg on charges stemming from the August 1993 death of Zackery Gutierrez. A final ruling in their case is not expected for several weeks.

Zackery’s family moved to Pittsburgh from San Diego in 1992 so he could undergo transplantation of his liver and intestines. He needed the surgery because his liver had been damaged by tube feedings.

Zackery had been born with short gut syndrome, which left him unable to digest food. He got his new organs at Children’s on June 2, 1993, and was discharged about five weeks later.

On Aug. 23, 1993, he was readmitted for dehydration, but he was stable and expected to go home soon.

On Aug. 24, Beatty signed an order to add two tablespoons of salt to the boy’s feeding. In a deposition given in July 1994, she said she considered the salt a supplement to the toddler’s diet, but that she made an error in calculating the amount Zackery should be given.

Khan, a transplant fellow at the time, countersigned Beatty’s order, but later said he did not read it carefully. Reyes was Beatty’s supervising physician at Children’s.

The boy died two days later after unsuccessful emergency surgery.

Khan is now with a transplant program in Miami and did not return a phone message yesterday.

Children’s spokeswoman DeAnn Marshall said Reyes “is confident that when the state completes its review of this matter that it will be clear that he had no role in this unfortunate incident. As always, his thoughts and prayers are with the Gutierrez family.” Attorney Jerry Meyers, who represented the Gutierrez family, told Zackery’s mother, Betty Folsom, of the board’s action yesterday.

“She’s sorry it took so long for the board to act but is glad that they finally have acted,” Meyers said. “She hopes that this disciplinary action against Ms. Beatty will discourage Beatty and other physician assistants from assuming responsibilities which they are unqualified to safely carry out.”

The consent agreement, signed Jan. 28, cited Beatty for negligence, incompetence and unprofessional conduct. Physician’s assistants work with patients under the supervision of licensed physicians, typically performing such duties as taking medical histories, recording patient data and collecting specimens. Before they are certified, physician assistants usually complete one year of course work in medical sciences and a second year of clinical rotations.

*Jerry Meyers retired from the firm in 2021.

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