While medical advances have made many formerly difficult surgeries routine, there are still dangers with any surgery, especially when anesthesia is involved. In Estate of Yvonne Harris v. Advocate Healthcare Network, et al., No. 03 L 6421, medical negligence during a routine laparoscopic tubal ligation surgery left the decedent with severe brain damage. An Illinois medical malpractice settlement totaling $8.95 million was reached between the decedent’s estate and the surgeon, anesthesiologist, physician group, and surgical center.
The healthy, young mother of two presented for the laparoscopic tubal ligation surgery, a permanent form of contraception that was supposed to be a simple in and out procedure. She was given general anesthesia and the procedure began. However, within five minutes the anesthesiologist noted that she had cardiac arrhythmia, which is an abnormal heart rate, and no blood pressure. All parties affirmed that the patient had not been getting any oxygen to her brain for several minutes.
The Illinois medical malpractice lawsuit alleged that the surgeon and anesthesiologist failed to recognize the plaintiff’s deprived condition for several minutes, which resulted in her subsequent brain damage. The patient’s abnormal heart rate and lack of blood pressure were a rare complication of the surgery and were thought to be the result of a carbon dioxide embolism.
Following the surgery, the decedent required 24-hour care and remained in a vegetative state for four years before eventually succumbing to complications of pneumonia. The decedent left behind two children and a husband.
Laparoscopic tubal ligation surgery is a fairly common form of permanent birth control in the U.S. and is considered a relatively low-risk procedure. And while the decedent’s complications may have been considered rare in a routine surgery like this, the estate alleged that the decedent’s severe outcome could have been avoided if the gynecological surgeon and anesthesiologist had recognized the urgency of her cardiac arrhythmia and loss of blood pressure.
Oftentimes in medicine it is the rare occurrences that have the most disastrous results. This could be because the rare conditions and side effects are potentially the most life-threatening, or because doctors and nurses do not have as many opportunities to practice responding to rare occurrences. Yet a condition’s rareness does not excuse medical staff from practicing due diligence in ensuring that each patient receives an appropriate level of care. In Harris, the decedent was not given that privilege and suffered the consequences for four years.
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