Their 2-year-old daughter died in surgery. They had no idea the hospital was warned it couldn’t handle her case  

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It was just before dawn on a clear, slightly breezy Tuesday when a Danville couple checked their 2-year-old daughter in for surgery at John Muir Medical Center in Walnut Creek. Three months had passed since the girl, Ailee, began saying, “Owie, tummy,” during a family trip to Las Vegas, leading to the discovery of a mass on her liver and a diagnosis of stage four cancer. On this day, doctors were planning to remove about half of the organ. In researching the best care for Ailee, who was the youngest of their three girls, Tom and Truc-Co Jong had initially focused on Stanford’s prestigious children’s hospital in Palo Alto. But the couple discovered that John Muir Health, a community health system in Contra Costa County, had formed a multimilliondollar partnership with Stanford to bring in pediatric doctors to treat more urgent and complex cases in the East Bay. Doctors and hospital leaders at John Muir had assured the Jongs they could perform Ailee’s surgery there, giving them confidence that they would receive Stanford-level care 40 miles closer to home, the couple told The Chronicle.

In a pre-operative room, Ailee clutched one of the blankets that Tom and TrucCo had used to swaddle her as an infant. The girl was never without what she called her “towel,” and at night her mother would tuck one under her chin before lying next to her and singing. As an anesthesiologist administered Ailee’s medication around 7:30 a.m. on Nov.12, 2019, Truc-Co squeezed her hand and told her to focus on a monitor displaying colorful stripes. Her daughter closed her eyes, and Truc-Co kissed her. “I said, ‘Mommy loves you,’” she recalled, “and I let them take her and placed her in their hands.” A Chronicle investigation has found that in the weeks before the surgery, John Muir Health leaders discounted warnings from their own staff that the hospital was not equipped to perform such a specialized operation, known as a liver resection. One of John Muir’s medical directors at the time said in an interview that she told a top hospital executive that the surgery would be a “clean kill.”

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