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Publication: Medical Malpractice Claim Allowed After 36 Years

Publication

Medical Malpractice Claim Allowed After 36 Years

A Pennsylvania woman successfully sued her doctors and her hospital more than 36 years after receiving questionable medical care.

The woman gave birth to her first child in 1965 and suffered serious circulation problems within hours of delivery. Her treatment included “cutdown” procedures on both arms. The cutdown procedures were minor surgical procedures in which small cuts were made in the woman’s arms to permit “dissection” of a vein and the insertion of a tube to administer medication and hydration.

For 36 years after the birth of her child, the woman suffered from respiratory problems, shortness of breath, and pain. Over the course of those years, she was hospitalized 16 times for treatment associated with her chronic respiratory problems and pain. In 2000, an echocardiogram showed irregularities in her heart. Further diagnostic testing disclosed that she had a 12- to 18-inch tube imbedded in her heart, entwined through several chambers. The tube was so integrated into her heart muscle that it could not be surgically removed.

The woman sued the doctors who were involved in the 1965 cutdown procedures and the hospital where they were performed, claiming that the hospital had failed to establish clear and safe procedures and that the doctors had failed to ensure that all the tubes they had inserted were removed from her body before they discharged her from their care.

On appeal, the woman won her right to take the case to a jury. The doctors and the hospital claimed that the woman’s many hospitalizations since 1965 were possible sources of the tube. However, the woman’s expert witness doctors all testified that none of her post-1965 hospitalizations likely involved the use of a tube as lengthy as the one in her heart. The woman’s experts also noted that the condition of the tube and the extent to which it was embedded in her heart clearly indicated that it had been inside her body for a long period of time. Finally, the experts noted that her chronic health problems after the birth of her child were consistent with the tube’s presence in her body.

Most people discover medical errors very quickly. But in the rare cases where the effects of poor medical care are not identified for years, claimants still have the right to be heard, as long as they seek judicial relief promptly once they have discovered the medical malpractice.