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Lake County couple suing over son's death at UCSF hospital

A Lake County couple whose infant son was recovering from a rare, life-threatening condition only to be killed by a bacteria that lurks in water pipes is suing the hospital where the child underwent a bone marrow transplant.

"We need to let others know. They need to fix it so it doesn't happen to anyone else," said Kellie Joseph, a Lake County Sheriff's detective and mother of Ryland Joseph, who died at the UC San Francisco's Benioff Children's Hospital May 16 at the age of 7 months. She and husband Rodd Joseph, a Clearlake Police sergeant, filed a wrongful death lawsuit Oct. 23 against the University of California regents.

The grieving couple contends Ryland was infected with Legionnaires' disease while recovering from a successful bone marrow transplant at Benioff Children's Hospital. He'd been in the hospital for more than three weeks when he contracted a fatal case of pneumonia that later was confirmed to be Legionnaires' disease.

The time between exposure to the bacteria and symptoms is two- to 14 days, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"It's just impossible he could have caught it anywhere else," said Steve Heisler, a personal injury attorney based in Baltimore. He's one of two lawyers representing the Josephs.

Hospital officials said they cannot comment on the lawsuit but confirmed an ongoing investigation into the death.

"At this point, there is not a clear explanation for the child's infection," the hospital's chief medical officer, Dr. Josh Adler, said in a written response to the Press Democrat's inquiries.

The California Department of Public Health on Tuesday confirmed it also has conducted an investigation into the death and said its findings should be available "soon."

The lawsuit alleges hospital officials had "actual knowledge" that the building's water system was contaminated with Legionella bacteria.

At least two other children have died of the disease at the hospital, one in 1992 and one in 1998, according to the lawsuit.

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