Published in: Hopkins Medicine Magazine
Written by: Mary Ann Ayd


In the early 1970s, when George Dover trained as a pediatric hematologist, he learned from the outset that tragic endings would be an inevitable part of his job. At that time, the prognosis for most of his patients—children with leukemia or sickle cell disease—was still grim. “I spent my formative years in medicine,” says the director of the Johns Hopkins Children’s Center, “talking with parents who were grieving or about to grieve.”

Yet on the windy March Sunday in 2001 when Dover met Tony and Sorrell King, even his three decades of insight seemed inadequate. What could he possibly say to this man and woman whose 18-month-old daughter had died at Hopkins just days earlier, not of some rare, incurable disease but of thirst? Josie King had not been Dover’s patient; he had never met her parents. But, having talked with those who had cared for Josie, Dover had no doubt that her death was indeed due to medical error. When he arrived that winter day at the Kings’ suburban Baltimore home, Dover knew he had a lot of listening to do. When he did speak, he said the one thing, perhaps the only thing, that mattered.

“We knew what had happened,” says Sorrell King. “We wanted someone to tell us why—why didn’t they listen to us when we said something was wrong with Josie, why didn’t they give her something to drink? We were involved with our lawyer then. We were going for it. If George had said, ‘We’re not sure what happened,’ we would have thrown him out. But he totally did the right thing, at least from our perspective. He said, ‘I am so sorry. This happened on my watch, at my hospital. I will help you get to the bottom of it.’”

To physicians who’ve seen their malpractice insurance premiums skyrocket in recent years, Dover’s promise could seem tantamount to handing the Kings’ attorney his case on a plate. Dover didn’t view it that way. Neither did those he consulted: Hopkins Medicine Dean and CEO Ed Miller, Hospital President Ron Peterson, Hospital Medical Affairs Vice President Beryl Rosenstein—even the Health System’s managing attorney for claims and litigation, Rick Kidwell.

“I had the full support of the administration,” says Dover. “Everyone encouraged me to be the line of communication.”

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