Radiation Error Death Not in Vain

Last Sunday, the NY Times ran a front page story about the dangers of radiation overexposure. The article highlighted the tragedy of Scott Jerome-Parks who died as a result of a radiation error. Ironically, Jerome-Parks contracted tongue cancer from volunteering in the 9/11 cleanup. On the morning of September 11, 2001, Scott missed his train that would have taken him to work at the World Trade Center. His sense of responsibility and commitment to the 9/11 victims compelled him to volunteer in clearing away the rubble. Exposure to the toxic dust from the collapsed towers led at least one doctor to believe that may have caused the tongue cancer.

In 2005, Jerome-Parks was receiving radiation treatments for the tongue cancer. According to the NY Times article, malfunctioning computer software for a new linear accelerator caused three radiation treatments to be 7 times more powerful and radiate a much broader area than the tongue cancer required. The radiation error caused tremendous pain, loss of hearing, an inability to swallow, and finally an inability to breathe. The excess radiation caused fatal damage to the nearby organs and led to his painful death in 2007.

As Scott Jerome-Parks was dying, he had a single request. He wanted his tragedy and the medical errors associated with it to become public so that others would not suffer a similar fate.

“If one life is saved from this, then Scott’s death won’t be in vain,” said his mother. “We hope people will become advocates of their own treatment. Ask the radiology staffs to check the settings, not once but twice.” As painful as it was for his parents to tell Scott’s story to the NY Times, they could do it because it was his wish. He didn’t want others to suffer from a lack of knowledge.
“With the Times’ report, we are in some ways dealing with Scott’s death all over again,” said Donna Parks. “But this time we feel better because some good is coming out of it. People will be more aware that radiation accidents can happen.”