Final Verdict: Seconds Mean Life and Death
Hospitals see thousands of emergency room patients every day. Many have acute and serious health conditions that require immediate care, while others are in less serious situations and don’t need to be seen right away. Complaints about long wait times in emergency rooms are common, but these are usually the results of a policy that more serious injuries must be treated first. A first-come, first-serve policy would force more seriously-ill patients to wait while those with less severe symptoms were evaluated first.
Regardless of who arrives and when, there are certain symptoms which demand immediate attention. Emergency room staff are trained to recognize the symptoms of heart attack, stroke, embolism, aneurysm, and other critical conditions which demand immediate treatment. In those cases, even a few minutes can mean the difference between life and death. It’s critical that anyone presenting with symptoms of an immediate life-threatening condition receive the proper care; when they do not, their injuries or death can become the basis of a medical malpractice claim.
Customer service employee Melanie J. Smith, age 40, began experiencing severe headache, slurred speech, dizziness, and weakness along her right side while visiting her parents on June 15, 2015. Her mother called an ambulance, worried that Melanie was experiencing a stroke, and the ambulance took her to Augusta Health Hospital in Augusta, Virginia. She arrived at the hospital at 10:42 PM, about two hours after the original 9-1-1 call.
Even though Melanie had symptoms consistent with a major stroke, the nurse at the hospital examined her and told her she simply had a complex migraine. She was prescribed migraine medicine and told to wait. Her symptoms did not subside, however, and another nurse finally ordered an MRI at 1:30 AM, more than five hours after the stroke had started. The MRI showed without question that Melanie had experienced an ischemic stroke.
The Mayo Clinic explains the causes of an ischemic stroke:
About 80 percent of strokes are ischemic strokes. Ischemic strokes occur when the arteries to your brain become narrowed or blocked, causing severely reduced blood flow (ischemia). A thrombotic stroke occurs when a blood clot (thrombus) forms in one of the arteries that supply blood to your brain. A clot may be caused by fatty deposits (plaque) that build up in arteries and cause reduced blood flow (atherosclerosis) or other artery conditions.
Despite being warned that Melanie was showing stroke symptoms, the nurse never consulted a neurologist until after the MRI. During a stroke, a patient must receive tissue plasminogen activator (tPA), a lifesaving drug, within 4.5 hours. By the time Melanie received tPA, it was too late; she suffered permanent brain damage and passed away from stroke-related complications four days later
Melanie’s family sued for medical malpractice and wrongful death, arguing that the hospital should have treated her immediately. Experts brought to testify said that if Melanie had received tPA within the first 4.5 hours after the stroke onset, it could have saved her life. Defense attorneys for the hospital tried to argue that Melanie’s symptoms weren’t severe enough to warrant a stroke alert, but the jury didn’t buy it. After five hours of deliberation, they awarded Melanie’s estate with damages in the amount of $3.5 million. If you have a question about a medical malpractice case call an attorney like Cohen & Cohen today.