Duct Tape Awards
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and other notable absurdities in public relations"

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Duct Tape Awards is currently on a sabbatical due to the war with Iraq--the ultimate travesty.

February 23, 2003: This week's winner is... Duke University Medical Center in Durham, NC.

"Measure twice, cut once."

After pediatric surgeon Dr. Jaggers botched 17-year-old Jesica Santillan's heart and lung transplant by transplanting incompatible organs of the wrong blood type, the now infamous Duke legal and PR machine repeatedly added insult to injury in one fiasco after another. For the first ten days after the botched transplant, Duke officials publicly denied responsibility and attempted to shift blame, declaring the error as "clerical". They tried to suppress information and stalled for time while Jesica's condition worsened. By the time Jesica got a second chance with another transplant, nearly two weeks after the first one, it was too late--Jesica was brain-dead. Duke then apparently refused to allow Jesica's family to obtain a second medical opinion about Jesica's condition, and finally, they denied the Santillan family's request to keep Jesica on the ventilator and discontinued life support despite the family's protests. Duke pronounced Jesica dead on Saturday, Feb. 22, 2003. As Dr. Arthur Caplan, physician and director of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania put it, "Things have gotten so out of control at Duke. This is the worst ending to a horrible sequence of events."

           The initial mistake was grossly negligent--professionally equivalent to a pilot of a commercial jetliner taking off without checking the fuel gauge. But as elementary as the blood-type match should have been, the error is understandable. People make mistakes, even the immensely talented and remarkably dedicated surgeons at Duke. These folks are truly one in a million. The real travesty is what happened after the botched surgery as the Duke executive board closed ranks, hunkered down and went into damage control mode. At that point, doctors and patient welfare took a backseat to Duke's own self-interest and the Duke legal team started calling all the shots. They withheld information and mislead the public by scrutinizing and crafting every word released to the media, all the while antagonizing the Santillan family and family advocates about their legal status and litigation intent. When lawyers and PR "gurus" run a healthcare system and dictate medical policy, travesty is certain. Duke's consistent insensitivity, conspicuous arrogance and appallingly poor judgment in dealing with Jesica Santillan's case earned them this week's Duct Tape Travesty Award. The Duct Tape Travesty Trophy will be mailed to Duke University Medical Center along with their award citation.

[ Related links: Durham Herald-Sun: Local coverage | WRAL: Chronology of events | Washington Post coverage | Jesica's Hope Chest: Org. for Critically Ill Children | more news about this case... ]

Read more about the Duct Tape Travesty Award

3 ducts in a row

About the Duct Tape Travesty Award: The Duct Tape Travesty Award is awarded to persons, organizations or governments for committing conspicuous absurdities on a grand scale in attempting to deal with a bad situation. The Duct Tape Travesty Award is the Oscar of bad PR. To be eligible for the award (an actual trophy and citation sent to the recipient), a nominee must meet ALL of the following conditions:
  1. The nominee must be an otherwise lawful, legitimate and reputable person, organization or government, ie. a notorious criminal or despot who commits a heinous act is NOT eligible for the award.
  2. The person or organization must demonstrate extreme poor judgment while attempting to deal with a bad situation, and, in doing so, must defy morality, legality, and/or reason.
  3. The ensuing course of action must directly result in making the bad situation substantially and publicly worse, ie. a PR fiasco. In other words, the poor judgment and ensuing course of action must "break the amendable, rather than mend the broken."

3 ducts in a row

Roll tape!
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