Airway Management Malpractice & Tracheotomy Mistakes

December 11, 2015

Lane & Lane Secures $22.2 Million Verdict for Client Whose Airway Was Not Protected by Hospital

In December 2015, we obtained a verdict of $22,185,598.50 for a client who suffered a devastating hypoxic brain injury after her tracheostomy became blocked while she was in the hospital. Our client had developed a dental infection and Ludwig’s angina which threatened to close off her airway. She had had an aortic valve replacement four years earlier, and was taking Coumadin, a “blood-thinning” medication, to protect her blood from clotting. An emergency tracheostomy was performed to protect her ability to breathe, and our client was recovering well until she began bleeding from the trach site five days after surgery.

The client’s sister was with her when our client began bleeding. Throughout the late afternoon and evening, she repeatedly asked the hospital staff for help. The nurses reportedly appeared unconcerned, telling our client and her sister that she couldn’t really be choking because the vital signs were stable, and they presumed that her complaints were just another trach patient’s common discomfort from her tracheostomy. During the afternoon, an ENT resident cauterized and repacked the trach site. Within a short time, however, our client began bleeding again. At that time an FFP (fresh frozen plasma) order was initiated to counteract the Coumadin.

Our client’s sister continued to ask for help. The hospital’s records indicate that our client was coughing up blood and blood clots through the trach. Eventually, a nurse paged the medical resident who was on call, and waited an hour and a half before paging her again. Eventually, the medical resident paged a senior resident. Neither the medical resident nor the senior resident had prior experience with tracheotomies. The nurses and residents failed to respond to our client’s airway crisis in a timely manner, failed to prevent her tracheostomy from becoming obstructed, and failed to clear the airway in a timely manner. Tragically, because our client’s tracheostomy was allowed to become obstructed, and the hospital’s staff failed to clear the obstruction quickly enough, a preventable and avoidable medical accident was allowed to progress to medical disaster, and resulted in permanent brain damage. Sadly, our client died during the jury’s deliberations the evening before the verdict was handed down.

No one should have to endure what our client and her family suffered because of a medical professional’s negligence. Nurses and doctors should use reasonable care and respond to airway obstructions in a timely manner. This is why we fought for our client’s legal recovery and this is why we will continue to fight for justice for other victims of medical malpractice.

Tracheostomies are life-saving measures. The one thing that cannot be allowed to happen to a patient with a tracheostomy is that the tracheostomy becomes obstructed. All medical providers taking care of trach patients must know that the tracheostomy is their patient’s lifeline, and all complaints relating to breathing and choking need to be taken seriously. If they are not taken seriously, needless and avoidable catastrophes can occur.

Tracheotomies Can Be Necessary Life-Saving Measures

Tracheotomies (also known as tracheostomies) are medically necessary when a person is having significant difficulties breathing independently. The procedure may be important when a person has:

  • Medical conditions that obstruct breathing through the mouth and nose. This includes conditions such as throat cancer, paralysis, neurological disorders, and other illnesses.
  • An emergency trauma that impacts breathing. This includes neck injuries, facial injuries, and sudden and serious infections such as Ludwig’s angina.

When performed correctly, tracheotomies allow patients to breathe until the underlying medical condition is resolved or indefinitely if the medical condition is permanent.

The Danger of Medical Malpractice

Tracheotomies are generally safe medical procedures, according to the Mayo Clinic. As with all medical procedures, doctors have a duty to provide treatment that meets standards of accepted care. If a doctor, nurse, or other medical professional fails to provide that standard of care, then serious and life-threatening complications may result.

Some of the specific malpractice risks associated with tracheotomies include:

  • Bleeding.
  • Obstructions or dislodgments of the tracheotomy;
  • Damage to the trachea.
  • Breathing problems.
  • Lung collapse.
  • Infection.
  • Brain damage.
  • Death.

These harms may occur by the medical providers’ negligence (medical malpractice) in failing to properly monitor and assess the patient while the tracheotomy is being performed or after it has been placed in the patient. Tracheotomy patients are at risk of serious injury and death if they are not properly monitored by experienced medical personnel. Any and all complaints or complications need to be addressed in a timely manner in order to protect the patient’s safety.

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