This week, a jury hearing a medical malpractice case in Dallas awarded $19.7 million to the family of a woman who suffered catastrophic and ultimately fatal brain damage as the result of her healthcare providers’ negligence. In 2013 the woman presented to a local hospital with a chief complaint of leg numbness. Shortly thereafter she was diagnosed with Guillain-Barre syndrome (GBS), a disorder in which the body’s immune system attacks the nervous system. It can diminish the ability of muscles to function which ultimately can lead to serious breathing problems. Still, GBS usually resolves and patients can experience a full recovery once their symptoms have passed.
The patient in this case began to experience breathing problems and so she was provided a breathing tube through her mouth. Eventually, this was changed to a tracheostomy tube through a hole in the patient’s neck. Although she was unable to speak due to the tracheostomy, she was awake, alert and functioning. Unfortunately, her physicians failed to realize that the way in which the trachea was inserted had caused a leak, resulting in the woman receiving less than half of the air that was intended. The next morning, the tube became dislodged and the woman’s oxygen supply was cut off completely for more than a half hour.
As a result, the woman spent the next eighteen months in a vegetative state, being cared for by nursing home staff with her husband visiting her when he was not busy taking care of the couple’s two young children. Thereafter the woman passed away. The trial lasted two weeks and the jury’s award came after just three hours of deliberations.