Doctor Error Turned Routine Surgery Into a Fatal Disaster

Our client was a 50-year-old mother, wife, and daughter. She was a hard worker who had worked in various Kentucky hospitals as a dedicated patient care advocate. 

One summer our client scheduled a consultation to have what should have been a routine surgical procedure to correct a hernia.

Hernia Surgery Gone Wrong

​The surgery was scheduled to begin at 8:00 a.m. and last around an hour. Our client's son, daughter, and husband were present at the hospital during the procedure. They grew worried after they heard nothing from the doctors for over four hours. Finally, the doctor came out and explained that he had mistakenly cut a blood vessel, causing a massive amount of blood loss and damage to the spleen. The surgeon stated he had to convert the surgery to an open procedure instead of laparoscopic and remove her spleen or she would bleed out and die. The surgery spiraled out of control as she lost a large volume of blood. Despite the splenectomy and blood loss, incredibly, the doctor continued with the original procedure instead of discontinuing the surgery. Due to the blood loss, Heparin, a medication used to prevent blood clots, was withheld despite the general standing order for such medication following surgical procedures. 

The doctor had a duty to know our client's anatomy and make prudent, reasonable surgical decisions in the face of causing total injury to her spleen and creating a hemodynamically unstable condition.

Post-Surgery Nightmare

​At 3:00 p.m. our client was admitted to the ICU and a consult was requested. The consulting doctor found our client to be hypotensive, in respiratory failure, anemic, and hemodynamically unstable. Over the course of the next day, she remained on a ventilator in the ICU fighting for her life.

Several days later, doctors ordered a procalcitonin (PCT) test. This test is the gold standard for assessing systemic sepsis in a patient. Her test indicated severe sepsis. Additionally, her white blood cell count (WBC) was extremely elevated, also indicating infection. Furthermore, she did not have a spleen—an organ that helps with blood filtration and infection control—compounding the concern of these lab values and signs pointing to sepsis.

Her PCT was 3.41 and noted to be in the range of a person who likely had sepsis and WBC was 25.2, both indicative of systemic infections. However, she was released without antibiotics. She should have remained in the hospital to be monitored and receive appropriate treatment.

Sepsis Caused Severe Problems

While at home, less than twenty-four hours after being discharged, she had a stroke as a result of sepsis. She was taken by ambulance to the emergency room where they diagnosed her as having a stroke. She was immediately flown by air ambulance to a hospital better able to provide critical care. Due to her condition, she remained in the hospital.

She was unable to take TPA, a standard therapy after a stroke, due to her recent surgery.

Five days later, her treating doctor noted she had systemic inflammatory response syndrome and thrombocytosis. He noted he thought the source of sepsis was from the abdomen. He went on to note that she would not receive full resolution of the splenic abscess and may require surgery at a later date but that she was not a good candidate for surgery at the time due to her sepsis. At this time she also began to have issues breathing and was placed on C-PAP. Due to the sepsis, she had a drain inserted into her stomach. The doctors told the family that they could smell the infection when they were inserting the tube. Physicians at the hospital confirmed that her strokes were a result of her underlying condition of sepsis and intra-abdominal abscesses.  

​Our client suffered two additional strokes. She also showed significant edema in the brain due to the infection, but she could not undergo surgery to reduce the pressure due to her unstable condition. By the next day, her voluntary reflexes were gone, and the family was told she had suffered such massive brain damage that there was nothing more they could do to help. She was not going to get better.  

​Her family had to make the incredibly difficult choice to remove her from life support. She was completely dependent upon a ventilator and medication to live. She had worked in the medical field and had expressed to her family that she never wanted to have to live connected to machines. They gave her one more day so her family and friends could see her one last time. Sadly, she passed away after being removed from life support.

​The death certificate states that her cause of death was a CVA, cerebral edema, sepsis with an underlying case of an intra-abdominal abscess.

Holding the Doctor and Hospital Liable for Our Client's Death

One of her subsequent treating physicians confirmed that by the time he saw our client, there was little they could do for her, given her dire condition. He added that “but for” the surgery and events that occurred at the Kentucky hospital, she would not have been in the condition that led to her death.​

Our investigation discovered that the doctor that performed her original surgery was not properly trained to perform the surgery on our client. Further evidence demonstrated a lack of training by the hospital staff assisting with the procedure. What should have been a routine procedure turned into a disaster. Our lawyers worked tirelessly with our team of nurses and expert physicians to build a strong case against the doctor and hospital which ultimately lead to a substantial resolution prior to a lawsuit being filed.

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Matthew L. White
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Founder & Partner of Louisville Personal Injury Law Firm Gray & White Law