Woman awarded $5 million in sodium infusion case

Thursday, February 05, 2009

By Sadie Gurman, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

A jury has awarded a woman who suffered brain damage after a trip to UPMC McKeesport more than $5 million in a civil case against the hospital, the woman’s attorneys said today.

Mary Ellen Pfeifer, 59, was diagnosed with an electrolyte deficiency and low sodium after a December 2006 visit to the emergency room, according to her attorneys, Veronica A. Richards and Sandra S. Neuman. The hospital planned to slowly correct her low sodium, but accidentally gave her a dose that was eight times the amount she should have received.

The rapid sodium infusion caused permanent brain damage that has prevented Ms. Pfeifer from returning to work, impaired her speech and has made walking difficult, her attorneys said. Ms. Pfeifer requires in-home care from her daughter and had a “long recovery period in South Side Hospital and a nursing home,” they wrote in a statement.

The jury for the civil trial began Jan. 23 in Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas.

“The hospital failed to accept responsibility for Mary Ellen’s current condition,” Ms. Richards wrote. “With their verdict, she will be able to stay in her home and receive the medical care she so desperately needs.”

First published on February 5, 2009 at 6:32 pm