A 26-year-old woman who had recently graduated from medical school and planned to become a pediatrician died after going to a Pennsylvania hospital complaining of days of headaches. The team of doctors who treated her did some tests and gave her medication, but did not order a head -imaging scan that would have detected her life threatening condition, a blood clot.
The patient was at the hospital more than 40 hours before a neurologist examined her and she was within hours of death before she was given clot-busting medications, according to a newspaper account. She eventually suffered massive cerebral hemorrhaging, a stroke, brain damage, and died. The young woman’s parents filed a medical malpractice lawsuit claiming the doctors failed to diagnose a blood clot that should have been obvious.
Approximately 30 percent of all injury related deaths can be attributed to some type of brain trauma, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. While the majority of brain injuries happen as a result of falls, traffic accidents, or being struck by an object, medical malpractice by health care providers also can cause serious and fatal brain injuries.
Examples of Doctor Negligence Causing Brain Injuries
Doctors and hospitals have a legal responsibility to deliver medical treatment according the recognized standard of care. When doctors fail to deliver the appropriate care, the impact to the patient receiving treatment can often be devastating.
Examples of doctor negligence that can lead to these types of brain injuries include:
- Failure to order appropriate tests and diagnose
- Improper diagnosis and treatment of any sort of concussion or head trauma
- Anesthesia errors
- Mistakes in medication dosage, including a failure to properly monitor pain pumps
- Lack of proper ventilation or failure to follow safety procedures before, during, and after surgery, leading to infection
- Surgical errors
- Errors or delays made during labor and delivery that deprive the baby’s brain of oxygen
- Inadequate monitoring during the birthing process and failure to respond quickly to signs of distress during the birth.
- Improper treatment of pre-eclampsia, resulting in a seizure cutting off oxygen to the baby in utero
- Failure to render treatment or aid to a patient having breathing difficulties or showing signs indicating respiratory distress
- Failure to diagnose and treat signs of an aneurysm, arrhythmia, stroke, or heart attack in a timely fashion
Delays in Diagnosis and Treatment can Cause Long Lasting Effects
Even a seemingly insignificant delay in diagnosis or medical treatment can end up causing an individual to become deprived of adequate oxygen supply or experience abnormally low levels of oxygen in the body’s organs and tissue. Should this happen, hypoxic or anoxic brain injuries are likely to result. This is due to the fact that brain cells cannot survive without oxygen. It only takes about four or five minutes for brain cells to begin to die once deprived of oxygen. If hypoxia is allowed to continue for longer than a few minutes, it could lead to seizures, coma, and possibly brain death.
Once the brain has been deprived of oxygen, damage can be permanent. Recovery will depend on the extent of the damage caused, as well as the length of time the brain was either deprived of oxygen or was subjected to exceedingly low levels of oxygen. In many cases, recovering from a brain injury will be a long, grueling process. Others may not ever be able to return to the standard of living they once enjoyed.
Neither the doctor nor the hospital is likely to admit to a patient that they have made an error leading to a brain injury. According to Sansone & Lauber, if you have a loved one who you suspect suffered a brain injury caused by medical malpractice, you may not know what actually happened unless you consult a qualified medical malpractice attorney and have the patient’s medical records examined, to determine if doctors followed the appropriate standard of care.
- CDC: Injury Prevention & Control: Traumatic Brain Injury: Traumatic Brain Injury in the United States: Fact Sheet
- NYU Langone Medical Center: Anoxic Brain Damage
- National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke: NINDS Cerebral Hypoxia Information Page
Guest post by Sansone & Lauber