Carlos was told the scratch was superficial. Then he went blind in one eye.

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Kate Godden looked at her six-year-old son sitting in the bath and suddenly realised their life would never be the same.

“I knew something was wrong,” the Mooroopna resident said.

Carlos Godden Nava, now aged 12, with his mother Kate Godden.Credit: Justin McManus

“I had a complete freak-out, went out the back, broke down, and rang up the doctors.”

Seven days earlier, Godden’s son, Carlos Godden Nava, had been scratched or bitten by a relative’s cat as it was startled by another child while Carlos was patting it, leaving Carlos bleeding from the eye.

Godden said she and Carlos’ father Manuel had driven their crying son from Shepparton about two hours to the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne on the instructions of staff at the local hospital.

But Godden claims she was told by a younger doctor at the children’s hospital that the scratch was superficial, and the family was sent home with instructions to see a GP in a week.

The Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne.Credit: Pat Scala

As he sat in the bath on July 13 in 2017, Carlos’ left eye opened up for the first time in days, and Kate was horrified to see that the eye had turned white.

Their local GP sent them back to the children’s hospital, where Carlos was rushed into emergency surgery. Doctors managed to save his eye, which Kate said she was told was hours away from needing removal, but not his sight, as the eye had an extensive infection.

Now aged 12 and a keen basketballer, Carlos is blind in his left eye and was recently told that the eye will not grow with him as he grows older.

Carlos, then aged six, in the days after the cat attack.

As he prepares to begin high school next year, Carlos says he gets anxious when meeting new people because of the way his eye looks and gets worried about damaging his good eye.

It is still extremely painful for him to talk about what happened, but Carlos said: “I want to tell my story because I don’t want anyone going through what I did.”

The Age recently obtained an internal Safer Care Victoria report that revealed that there were at least 21 sentinel events relating to care of children in emergency departments between 2017 – the year of Carlos’ accident – and June 2022.

Of these cases, regarded as “wholly preventable” and resulting in serious harm or death, 11 patients aged 18 or under died, nine permanently lost function and one required life-saving surgery.

The report found common contributing factors included delayed responses to patients whose condition was deteriorating, lack of experience among treating doctors or availability of senior staff, parent or caregiver concerns being overlooked, and communication issues.

It is not clear if Carlos’ case formed part of the sentinel event report, and the hospital wouldn’t say if the case was classified as such.

Carlos and his family are being represented by law firm Slater and Gordon, who are investigating a medical negligence claim.

His lawyers argue that if Carlos had been properly diagnosed during his first visit to the Royal Children’s Hospital and received “appropriate treatment and communication in relation to his injury”, on the balance of probability, the injury would have led to a “less traumatic outcome”.

They will allege that the doctor who saw Carlos on his first visit to the children’s hospital “should have taken steps to adequately determine whether the laceration was superficial, which may have required examination under anaesthetic”.

Godden said she had emphasised that her son’s eye had been bleeding but was reassured the injury was superficial and was sent home with antibiotic eye cream, Nurofen and Panadol, and instructions to put a cold compress on the eye.

She said that she took Carlos to a local hospital in Shepparton either the next day or the following morning. They went to hospital again on July 11, because Godden was having trouble getting the eye cream into Carlos’ eye, and then as he was unable to sleep because of the pain. It wasn’t until a visit to the GP on July 13 that they were referred back to Melbourne.

Godden said they had received no apology from the Royal Children’s Hospital and, as far as she was aware, there was no investigation into the alleged initial misdiagnosis of the severity of the injury.

The Royal Children’s Hospital was asked if Carlos’ case had been classified as a sentinel event, or if his treatment on July 6 in 2017 had been reviewed or investigated, but the hospital declined to comment.

Carlos in the days after his initial visit to the children’s hospital.

“Due to hospital policy, we are unable to comment on individual patients,” a spokeswoman said.

Godden said Carlos had to repeat a year of school after the injury because he had missed many months of class as the result of not being confident around others. She said the entire family, including Carlos’ dad and two older brothers, had been left traumatised.

“Me, I just plod along and think I’m OK and then little things happen that bring it all back,” Godden said. “I constantly feel like it is my fault.”

After a spate of preventable child deaths and harm in emergency departments, the Victorian government recently announced it would introduce an escalation process for parents who are concerned about the care being provided to their children.

Slater and Gordon senior legal counsel Shari Liby said it was essential that every hospital that accepted paediatric patients had the resources and skills necessary to appropriately diagnose and treat the children who attend for help.

“When children are sick or injured, their parents’ first port of call quite often is their local emergency department,” she said.

“I have seen quite a number of cases over the years where the emergency department’s lack of experience or expertise in children’s medical issues has resulted in critical things being missed. The consequences when this happens can be devastating.”

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