AIEA, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Bernadette Keliiaa will never know what caused her son's death after she watched him die on a hospital bed at Pali Momi Medical Center, because an autopsy she requested was never performed.
Donovan Keliiaa was a big guy, six foot eight inches tall.
"Just the happiest, happiest loving person," Bernadette Keliiaa said.
Her son was autistic, and the 33 year old had just moved out of his family home in Aiea three years ago.
"For people who have autistic kids. They can grow up, they can be functioning. They can live on their own, you know?" she said.
On Nov. 29, Keliiaa said her son suffered chest pain and had a mild heart attack so he was admitted to Pali Momi Medical Center, where doctors removed a liter of fluid that surrounded his heart.
On December 4, the same night a doctor said he was improving and could go home in a couple of days, his mother was visiting him when he started coughing up blood.
"It started to come up blood and it was more and more blood and so he pushed the button and called for the nurse and I ran in the hall and called for the nurse and by the time I came back in, his eyes were pretty much solid, they did a code blue and I was out in the hall watching all of this happen," Keliiaa said.
The medical crews couldn't save Donovan, who died within a half hour after he started coughing up blood, the night of Dec. 4.
"His cardiologist came in and said 'I know it's a bad time, but can we do an autopsy?" And I said, 'Yeah, I want to know what happened between 8 o'clock and 9:30 that he was going home and now he's gone,'" Keliiaa said.
That night, she signed the paperwork approving an autopsy but then she got some bad news from the hospital the day after Christmas, two weeks after he had been cremated. The autopsy was never performed.
"I pretty much just almost like crumbled to the floor. That was the worst thing. It was bad enough that he died and then to not even know. He's 33 and everybody says 'What happened?' And I'm like 'I don't know,'" Keliiaa said.
On Jan. 21, officials met with her in her home to apologize and told her a staff member had failed to pass the autopsy authorization on to Pali Momi's lab.
She said they told her on a general care ward, where patients don't die as often as they do in the emergency department or intensive care unit, staffers are not as familiar with autopsy procedures.
"We are sincerely regretful that this occurred and extend our deepest sympathy to the family," Pali Momi said in a statement released Thursday in which the hospital said it has "... taken steps to ensure this does not happen again by implementing additional measures to make sure our policies and procedures are consistently followed."
Keliiaa said a hospital representative told her it had just added a drop-down menu to its computerized medical records system in January to indicate whether an autopsy had been requested, to avoid paper work mistakes like this from happening again.
She's said already been to three lawyers who said they wouldn't take the case because since her son was on disability and didn't have income or dependents, the financial damages would not amount to much.
"They're like, well you can't do a malpractice because there's no autopsy and I'm like, 'Who knows? You know? Who knows what would have been found?'" Keliiaa said.
Attorney Michael Green, whose law firm has not been contacted by the family, told Hawaii News Now: "This family will go on for the rest of their lives never knowing about their son, who they were told was going to be released in a day or two, and he was dead in a matter of hours?"
Green said regardless of the potential payouts in some cases, lawyers have an obligation to help people such as Bernadette Keliiaa and her family.