boy dies on operating table after emergency room errors part 3

Our last two posts discussed the series of medical mistakes that led to the death of a 14-year-old boy. Read those two posts to understand the mistakes the doctors made before this point.

When the thoracic surgeon arrived, he said he couldn’t operate on the boy because he did not have the team or equipment necessary to do so. All the doctors involved agreed that the boy would have a better outcome if he was transferred to a nearby level-one trauma center. However, the boy’s condition deteriorated quickly. The boy’s heart rate sped up, he was shouting out in pain and he rated his pain a 15 — on a scale of 1 to 10.

When the doctor finally operated on the boy, he was in shock and had massive internal bleeding. Shortly after that, the boy went into cardiac arrest and died. Sadly, this tragic result is not unusual in cases involving serious and repeated emergency room errors.

During testimony, the chairman of medicine agreed that the boy’s condition was unusual, but he was clear that that the physician’s failure to diagnose and treat the boy’s injury in a timely manner caused his death. He added that blood is the only thing that could cause the swelling found in the boy’s neck, which should have led the doctor to treat the internal bleeding immediately.

The chairman also said that the boy’s life could have been saved if he had received proper attention as late as two and a half hours before he died. Finally, he also added that the boy reported that he had been kicked in the throat, and it should have been assumed that the kick was violent, even if the physical signs weren’t apparent.

After a month-long trial, jurors found that the physician “deviated from accepted standards of medical practice, [and] that his deviation increased the risk of harm posed by the decedent’s pre-existing condition.”

The physician must pay the boy’s father $2.4 million.

No amount of money can undo the pain and suffering the boy experienced, and it will not return a deceased son to his suffering father. Unfortunately, the medical establishment and insurance industry have grown more or less accustomed to such awards, so it is doubtful this judgment will be painful enough to produce real change. To some, such tragedies — and the medical malpractice judgments they incur — appear to be seen as just a “cost of doing business.”

We’ve written about other emergency room errors, and each case seems to be worse than the last. What will it take for triage nurses and ER physicians to accurately assess patients’ injuries? And what can innocent patients and their families do to help ensure the doctors and nurses to whom they are trusting their lives fully understand the pain they are in and the details of their situation?

No innocent life should be lost because a physician simply doesn’t pay attention to a patient who is crying out in pain.

Source: Cliffview Pilot, “Court upholds $2.4 million malpractice award in death of Bergen boy kicked by mom,” Jerry Demarco, Nov. 17, 2011

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