On May 29 of last year, about two weeks after earning her medical degree, a 26-year-old Maryland woman died of a brain hemorrhage. According to a wrongful death lawsuit brought by her family, her life could have been saved if doctors hadn’t failed to adhere to “some of the most basic and fundamental principles in medicine.” Furthermore, the hospital was so inadequately staffed that the necessary treatment wasn’t even available.
According to the lawsuit, she came to the emergency room on Sunday, May 26, complaining of unusual bruising and severe, persistent headaches that had lasted for more than 10 days and didn’t respond to over-the-counter painkillers. Those are symptoms of potentially life-threatening bleeding on the brain, but the attending doctors didn’t order even the simplest brain imaging scan.
They didn’t take her medical history, either, which would have revealed she was using the contraceptive NuvaRing, which is known to increase patients’ risk of blood clots. And, despite blood work indicating otherwise, she was initially diagnosed with low blood platelet levels and given painkillers.
At the same time, the hospital was severely understaffed due to the Memorial Day weekend. “Essentially, everything that should have happened for the most part didn’t occur until Tuesday when everybody got back to work,” the family’s attorney says.
On Tuesday, more than 40 hours after her admission, a CT scan was finally performed. She wasn’t yet bleeding, but the test showed evidence of a blood clot in a sinus vein inside her brain. Unfortunately, the hospital had no interventional radiologist available who could have treated the blood clot.
Seeing the blood clot, the doctors ordered an MRI. While she waited, she went into a stupor, complained of tunnel vision and was unable to answer questions. She couldn’t cooperate with the test, but the lawsuit claims that even the incomplete MRI showed a brain hemorrhage.
Plans were made to fly her to another hospital, the plans fell through, and by the time she arrived by ambulance she had irreversible brain damage. She was taken off life support in the early hours of Wednesday, May 29.
Any preventable death caused by medical malpractice is a tragedy for family members and loved ones. It’s incomprehensible for the life of a bright young doctor to be taken so quickly when a proper diagnosis and appropriate treatment should have saved her.
Source: The Times Leader, “Malpractice suit filed in young doctor’s death,” Jerry Lynott, Jan. 8, 2014