Firm Wins Medical Malpractice Case For Patient Death After Elective Cervical Spinal Fusion Surgery Where Hospital Nurse Fails To Recognize Signs of Airway Compromise including Cyanosis and Delay Leads to Patient Death

Cyanosis is the appearance of blue, purple, or darkening of the skin or mucous membranes when someone isn’t receiving enough oxygen in their blood.  Cyanosis is the result of exposure to extreme cold, arterial or venous obstruction, reduced cardiac output, or even potential heart failure.  When signs of cyanosis appear, they should be addressed immediately, as the person showing signs isn’t getting enough air, or is having other breathing or pulmonary issues that are extremely serious and can lead to permanent brain injury and even death.  Cyanosis includes, blue skin around the mouth, nose and fingers.  Most lay people, let alone trained hospital nurses treating a patient who was just out of cervical spinal surgery should know that when a patient starts to turn blue that is a problem. Sadly for our client’s family the nursing staff at this hospital failed to do anything about these danger signs until the patient coded and died.

Here is what happened (names have been changed due to Confidentiality clause in the case).  Earlier in the day, that man had been admitted to the hospital for elective cervical spine fusion surgery.  While the surgery itself went well, and he was released from Post-Anesthetic Care to the floor for discharge the next morning, he soon began complaining about shortness of breath and difficulty breathing.  In late 2011, a man was admitted to a Central Florida Hospital for an elective cervical spinal surgery.   In a cervical spinal fusion the vertebral discs in the cervical spine (neck area)  at one or more levels are removed and replaced with bone.  The purpose is to take pressure off the nerves or spine in the neck and usually is recommended for symptoms of pain or numbness in the nerves emanating from the neck.   In most spine fusion cases it is elective, not an emergency and scheduled at the convenience of the surgeon, patient and hospital.  There are some risks, as with all surgeries but most of the risks are minor and the severe risks usually come from the surgery itself  not after surgery when the patient is cleared to the hospital floor.

Here,  the  patient had been sent to the floor and was even checked out by a physician on the floor as doing well.  Shortly after he got to the floor he started to fell difficulty breathing.  He told his wife, they both told the nurses.  As his breathing became harder and harder he and his wife kept calling the nurse, they even wrote down the problems when he could no longer talk from the breathing problems.  All of those signs were ignored by nurses and practitioners after a local man had surgery in a nearby hospital.  .  Understandably he became somewhat agitated when nurses caring for him paid little heed to his complaints.  The nurses did nothing except give him valium.  When the shortness of breath continued he became frightened, his wife too was crying.  Over the course of several hours, and while beginning to show signs of cyanosis, the gentleman’s complaints and agitation were ignored.  As the blue color to his tongue and fingertips advanced, the patient continued to complain that he wasn’t able to get enough air.  The only treatment he received was the administration of Diazepam for his apparent agitation.   Understandably he became somewhat agitated when nurses caring for him paid little heed to his complaints that he could not breathe.  Instead of getting him a doctor the records suggest (the records are vague and very hard to figure out what happened and when) they put restraints on him according to the records and just strapped him down while he suffocated.

The lack of attention eventually lead to a cardiac episode from lack of oxygen.  This is when efforts were finally made by the staff to save the man. Only then did they call a Code but then it was too late.  He was brain dead by then so while he was successfully resuscitated, lack of oxygen to the brain left him unable to function without the aid of a breathing machine and not really alive.  The family made the difficult decision to remove the machine, and the man passed away.

Our firm was able to help the family find out what took place and why. We had sued this same hospital chain before and they knew we would do what it takes to win again and that the cases we take are just and true.   We were able to negotiate a favorable resolution with the hospital in a very short time (the entire case was over in only just over a year which is astonishingly quick for malpractice cases) and the family was able to move on.

This family isn’t alone.  Often, signs that should not be ignored by the physicians and nurses caring for their patients are ignored or misdiagnosed.  If those signs had been addressed properly, he and other patients may be alive today.  If you know of a loved one who died from medical or surgical malpractice, we know how to investigate and resolve these cases quickly and favorably.

Wooten Kimbrough, P.A.  Medical Malpractice Attorneys



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