Two stories shine spotlight on dangers of preventable medical errors

Chart showing medical errors as the third leading cause of death in the U.S.As lawyers who have represented hundreds of medical malpractice victims, we’re acutely aware of the dangers associated with the hundreds of thousands of preventable medical errors committed by health care professionals in the United States each year. That’s why our interest was piqued by two troubling articles that recently appeared in the Washington Post.

The first:  A dog bite sent him to the ER. A cascade of missteps nearly killed him, tells the story of 50-year-old David Krall who nearly died after doctors and ER personnel failed to realize that a life-threatening infection caused by a dog bite was spreading throughout his body. The cavalcade of errors that nearly killed the previously healthy industrial engineer from Lexington, Kentucky included unconscionably long waits for treatment in the ER, doctors’ refusal to recognize that the dog bite was the source of the infection, and misdiagnosis of the infection itself.

As a result of the mistakes, Mr. Krall spent 51 days in the hospital, lost portions of several toes, and is now deaf in one ear.

One reason he almost lost his life: doctors refused to listen when his wife and family friend who is a physiologist insisted that the dog bite was the source of the infection that was rampaging through Mr. Krall’s body. Here’s how the Post  described the situation:

After David was moved to the intensive care unit, Becky said, she repeatedly mentioned the dog bite as a possible cause of his infection. But she said doctors told her they didn’t think the bite was relevant. They were fairly certain that David’s meningitis infection was caused by a bacteria known as Neisseria meningitidis . How he had acquired it was a mystery.

Becky grew increasingly insistent after a physiologist friend found articles in medical journals about a rare bacterium transmitted in dog saliva, Capnocytophaga canimorsus , which causes potentially fatal infections, particularly in people without spleens.

Forster, who was called in on the sixth of David’s 51-day hospitalization, recalled that the ICU team “mentioned the dog bite as an aside. They said the wound didn’t look bad, and they weren’t focused on it.”

Things weren’t helped when ER doctors at the University of Kentucky’s Albert B. Chandler Hospital failed to treat him even though his blood pressure was extremely low and his temperature had climbed to 102.9. Krall and his wife Becky decided to go home at 12:30 A.M. after waiting more than five hours for the hospital’s staff to address his symptoms. When they came back the next morning Krall was near death.

You may read the entire, harrowing story here. 

Our second tale of medical woe involves one of the scariest of all medical nightmares: a surgical mistake that results in the removal of a perfectly healthy body part. In our second story: He underwent surgery to remove his right testicle. When he woke up, his left one was missing., reporter Amy Wang recounts the trials and tribulations of Steven Haines, who visited his urologist complaining of persistent pain in his right testicle. Here’s Ms. Wang’s description of events:

An ultrasound revealed that the testicle had atrophied, with scarring and damage from a previous injury, according to court documents. And so the doctor scheduled an orchiectomy — or surgical removal of the testicle — to help alleviate Hanes’s pain.

The good news? The orchiectomy was successful.

The bad news? The doctor removed the wrong testicle during the surgery.“At this point it appeared that the left testicle and cord may actually have been removed instead of the right one,” the surgeon, Valley Spencer Long, wrote in a postoperative report, according to court records.

No, I’m not kidding and no, it’s not at all funny. To the contrary, what happened to Mr. Hanes is tragic, inexplicable and inexcusable. And while rare, such mistakes do happen. A 2011 Post roundup of such cases included doctors in Minneapolis removing a healthy kidney from a man with kidney cancer and an ophthalmologist in Portland, Ore., operating on the wrong eye of a 4-year-old boy.

“Few medical errors are as vivid and terrifying as those that involve patients who have undergone surgery on the wrong body part, undergone the incorrect procedure, or had a procedure intended for another patient,” the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says. In the medical community, “wrong-site, wrong-procedure, wrong-patient errors” are known as WSPEs, and they are so egregious and usually preventable that the federal health department deems them “never events” — “errors that should never occur and indicate serious underlying safety problems.”

Today, Mr. Hanes, who was severely traumatized by the incident, is living with the pain in his right testicle for two reasons: first because he is understandably fearful of undergoing another surgery, and, second, because if the remaining testicle is removed he will be forced to undergo testosterone replacement therapy for the rest of his life.

You may read Mr. Hanes’ story here.

Finally, if you are hurt or a member of your family is injured or killed because a medical professional made a mistake, please contact the experienced legal team at Betras, Kopp & Harshman and set up a no-cost consultation as soon as you can. We will use our experience to examine your case, provide our best advice, and do all we can to help you secure justice and the financial settlement you and your loved ones need and deserve.