Final Verdict: Despite Death, Hospital Not Responsible
Hospitals process hundreds of patients every day. Their goal is to make sure each patient received the correct diagnosis, the right treatment, and is discharged in better shape than when they entered. It’s a complicated process, and they don’t always get it right. Sometimes, a mistaken diagnosis or missed symptoms can lead to tragedy, as they did in the case of 68-year-old Madeline Sparks. But is the hospital always responsible? According to a Baltimore County jury in February 2019, it’s not always the medical provider’s fault.
Madeline Sparks was admitted to Franklin Square Hospital on May 15, 2019, with weakness and internal bleeding. During her stay, she was treated for gastrointestinal bleeding and a minor heart attack she suffered during her stay. She received multiple blood transfusions as well. Doctors attached a camera to an endoscopic probe in an attempt to locate the source of the bleeding, but were unable to do so. They believed further treatment was important, and recommended a capsule endoscopy at discharge.
Capsule endoscopy is a technique in which a tiny wireless camera is placed inside a pill and swallowed by the patient. The camera takes photographs of the patient’s entire digestive tract as it passes through the body, allowing gastroenterologists (doctors who study the digestive and intestinal tracts) to examine tissue for any cuts or signs of infection. In 2015, Franklin Square Hospital wasn’t able to perform capsule endoscopy for inpatients, and so Madeline had to be discharged in order to receive this additional diagnostic work.
Madeline followed up with her family doctor a few days later, on May 26. Shortly after, she began experiencing stomach pain and rapid heartbeat. These hadn’t been present when she was originally admitted to the hospital, or during her stay. When she went back to the hospital, she was found to be seriously anemic, requiring additional blood, and suffered a much more severe heart attack almost immediately after arriving. Although she was treated with a metal stent (a tube placed inside the circulatory system to stop blockage) and transferred to ICU, she soon suffered another heart attack and passed away two days later.
Madeline’s family sued the hospital for medical malpractice. Their attorneys argued that it had been negligent for the hospital to discharge her without identifying the source of her gastrointestinal bleeding, and claimed that if she had remained in the hospital, her blood levels would have been monitored and managed and she would not have suffered another heart attack. They sought medical costs, funeral expenses, and pain and suffering on behalf of Madeline’s estate; they also sought wrongful death damages on behalf of Madeline’s family members.
The trial lasted for six days. Experts disagreed on whether Madeline would have had a better outcome if she had remained in the hospital between May 23 and May 26. It seemed likely that her bleeding would have been better-managed and controlled, but another heart attack was still a possibility. Additionally, further diagnosis by capsule endoscopy simply wasn’t possible while she remained at the hospital, necessitating her discharge. In reaching a determination of no negligence on the part of the hospital, the jury also noted prior medical history of two previous heart attacks, congestive heart failure, coronary disease, a pacemaker, and fifty years as a cigarette smoker. Call an attorney like Cohen & Cohen, P.C. if you have questions about your case.