10 Tragic yet Avoidable Anesthesia Errors (Part 3)

Doctor Looking at XrayIn Part 1 and Part 2 of this blog post, we’ve seen some shocking medical errors—doctors insulting a patient during surgery, an anesthesiologist blinding five people in one day, a three-year-old dying in the dentist’s chair. Here are some more tales from the operating room that never should have happened:

8. Twelve-year-old dies during tonsillectomy: Although tonsillectomies for the most part are considered routine procedures, it was anything but a routine procedure in this case. A young girl who had previously experienced many throat infections while growing up was advised to have her tonsils removed, and her parents then scheduled such a surgery. But just minutes into the medical procedure, she developed pulmonary edema, which is caused by an excess of fluid collecting in the lungs. She went into cardiac arrest and died two days later. Although the hospital attributed the death to a cerebellar vascular anomaly involving an “abnormal” connection of veins and arteries, the family pushed on to find the truth. After hiring a lawyer and medical experts to examine the records, they came to believe that what actually happened was that a questionable dosage of anesthetic drugs was given (bupivacaine and epinephrine) and the combined effect of these drugs, along with two other drugs, adversely affected her heart. After administration, her heart rate jumped much higher and damaged her left ventricle, which caused fluid to build up in the lungs. She then basically drowned in these bodily fluids. Within days, she was taken off of life support and declared brain dead. In the medical malpractice lawsuit that followed, it was also alleged that the anesthesiologist improperly removed medical records from the patient’s file and took them home; only returning them after the hospital demanded their return.

9. Joan Rivers’ botched examination: A substantial monetary settlement was recently reached in the medical malpractice lawsuit involving the death of comedian Joan Rivers. The lawsuit named an outpatient surgery center and its physicians and medical staff, including an ear, nose, and throat specialist (ENT) and three anesthesiologists. According to a report from the medical examiner’s office, Rivers, who was having trouble with her voice and with acid reflux, was to undergo a laryngoscopy (to examine her vocal cords and voice box) as well as an endoscopy to look at her upper digestive system while under anesthesia. An investigation later conducted by the state determined that medical personnel had failed to properly identify deteriorating vital signs and to provide timely medical intervention. Among the allegations of the malpractice suit were that the medical personnel failed to act appropriately when Rivers’ pulse dropped, her blood pressure dropped, and signs that she was going into shock were apparent. The lawsuit further alleged that as vital signs continued to drop, the anesthesiologist administered 300 mg of a powerful anesthetic called Propofol, although the anesthesiologist claimed that the medical records were incorrect and she had administered only 120 mg. For ten minutes, they tried to resuscitate Rivers but failed to call 911 during that period. It was also alleged that the medical team failed to administer the proper muscle relaxant drug to release Rivers’ muscles and allow insertion of a breathing tube, so by the time that paramedics arrived, the patient was already blue from lack of oxygen.

10. Eight-year-old suffers catastrophic brain damage: In order to treat sleep apnea, a girl was placed under general anesthesia for an elective adenoidectomy and tonsillectomy. Now, she cannot communicate, talk, or walk. As part of a medical malpractice lawsuit, the child’s parents sued not only the hospital involved, but also the surgeon, the anesthesiologist, and the anesthesiology unit at the medical facility. After the surgery, the eight-year-old appeared disoriented and her head was tilted sideways. Her mother noticed that her eyes were not focused; that she looked pale, and that her fingers were cold. Although her mother communicated these concerns to the nursing staff, they told her to administer a morphine drip at home as the girl was not opening her mouth. The child was then put into a wheelchair and sent home. But on the way home, her mother again noticed how pale she was, that her heart was racing, and that her eyes were rolling back into her head. After calling the hospital hotline, she was told to call back in five hours if things did not improve. The girl’s condition continued to deteriorate and she was brought back to the hospital. Emergency room doctors determined, after a CAT scan, that she was in critical condition with a brainstem or cerebral edema (swelling of the brain resulting in oxygen deprivation). As a result, this once-active child stays in her bed without any voluntary movements of her limbs and must use a feeding tube. An estimate of the cost to care for her for the rest of her life is between 5 million and 10 million dollars.

Mistakes can happen. But when highly trained medical professionals commit medical malpractice, their patients may suffer brain damage, become paralyzed, or in extreme cases, may even die.

If you or a loved one has been the victim of surgical malpractice, call Mitchell S. Sexner & Associates LLC 24 hours a day for free, no-obligation information from an experienced member of our legal team. Millions of dollars have been already collected for our deserving clients and there is never a fee unless we’re successful on your behalf. Call (312) 644-0444.