When patients agree to undergo surgery, they literally put their lives in the hands of the surgeon and other medical professionals handling their care. It’s normal to feel anxious and nervous prior to a surgical procedure, but most patients don’t expect to emerge from the surgery with new and life-changing health complications.
According to a USA Today report, a New York woman who underwent surgery to help correct spinal stenosis ended up paralyzed after the surgeon committed medical malpractice during her spinal surgery.
The medical mistake left the woman a quadriplegic with lifelong medical expenses and a total loss of movement in her arms and legs. At trial, a New York jury awarded her $55.9 million.
Spinal Stenosis Surgery Leads to Quadriplegia
According to media reports, the woman was 56 years old when she underwent spinal surgery at Good Samaritan Hospital in Suffern, New York in 2009.
Reports state that she was suffering from tingling and discomfort in her arms, neck, and hands and that her doctor diagnosed her with spinal stenosis, which is a narrowing of the spaces within the spine.
The Mayo Clinic states that spinal stenosis puts pressure on the nerves in the spine, which can lead to pain and difficulty sitting and performing tasks.
In some cases, doctors perform surgery to correct the narrowing and hopefully relieve the patient’s pain. This type of surgery is known as a laminectomy.
During the woman’s laminectomy surgery, however, reports state that a piece of fractured bone pierced the spinal cord’s protective covering.
While the woman was in recovery, her blood pressure dropped, and she lost sensation and movement in her limbs. However, records show that hospital staff failed to order testing until three hours after this occurred.
When hospital staff finally ordered testing, a scan revealed blood pressing on the woman’s spinal cord — something known as an epidural hematoma. At the time, the neurology practice that examined the woman misdiagnosed her with a stroke.
According to the plaintiff, an accurate diagnosis would have allowed doctors to remove the blood, which would have alleviated the pressure and prevented paralysis.
Without the proper diagnosis, the woman’s paralysis persisted, and she became a quadriplegic.
Reports state that she has been in a wheelchair since the surgery. At trial, the jury awarded her $20 million for pain and suffering, plus additional money for her lost wages and future care. The jury also awarded her husband $10 million for loss of spousal services.
Battle of the Experts in Medical Malpractice Cases
Personal injury cases are often complex, but medical malpractice cases tend to be among the most complicated types of injury claims. One of the reasons for this is the requirement to show the doctor or hospital deviated from the accepted standard of care.
Doctors are humans, and like any human, they will make mistakes. Hospitals have procedures in place to help ensure mistakes don’t occur, but these procedures aren’t foolproof.
Additionally, it’s possible for two different doctors with the same training and expertise to approach a health condition in two different ways. While they might handle a patient’s case differently, this doesn’t necessarily mean that one doctor departed from the correct standard of care.
For example, in the foregoing case, the plaintiff presented evidence that the surgeon should have recommended physical therapy and other less invasive treatments before a laminectomy surgery.
While other doctors might agree with a more conservative treatment before moving to surgical intervention, there are likely other doctors who would say that surgery was within the accepted standard of care.
These differing opinions are sometimes referred to as the “battle of the experts” in medical malpractice cases.
Because many medical conditions can be treated in a variety of different ways, it’s not always easy to determine which treatment is appropriate versus what courses of action are more likely to lead to harm rather than help the patient.
How to Avoid Medical Mistakes
Understandably, people can feel nervous and anxious about seeing a doctor about a serious medical condition like spinal stenosis. Pain can interfere with your daily life and your ability to work. If a doctor recommends surgery as a way to alleviate pain, you may wonder if the surgery is worth the risk.
While no surgical procedure is entirely without risk, you can reduce your chances of being a victim of a medical mistake by asking questions about your diagnosis and the doctor’s recommended treatment plan. Don’t be afraid to speak up if you feel like other treatments might be effective.
It’s also a good idea to get a second opinion. You may even want to seek out a third or even fourth opinion before going forward with surgery or other types of treatment. If you have been injured due to a doctor’s negligence, talk to a New York City medical malpractice lawyer about your case.