According to the Mayo Clinic, “atrial fibrillation (‘AFib’) is an irregular and often rapid heart rate that can increase your risk of stroke, heart failure and other heart-related complications.” When a patient is experiencing AFib, the heart’s two upper chambers of the heart beat chaotically and irregularly, not in unison with the lower two chambers. The symptoms of AFib include, but are not limited to shortness of breath, weakness and heart palpitations.
In a recent medical malpractice lawsuit, a 63 year-old patient who had long suffered from bouts of AFib presented to a cardiologist who was covering for his own regular doctor, who was on vacation, for an emergency appointment for a flare-up of his AFib. If not properly treated, this condition can cause an accumulation of blood in the heart’s atrial chamber causing increased risk of an embolus and a stroke. Although his regular doctor usually placed him on the medication Coumadin to treat such symptoms, on this visit, the cardiologist allegedly ignored the patient’s past successful history with Coumadin, determined the patient was a low risk for an embolic event and placed him on a high dose of aspirin with instructions to follow up a week later.
A week later, the patient followed up as instructed with his regular cardiologist and was still experiencing symptoms of AFib. He immediately was placed on Coumadin and sent home. However, as his lawyers alleged, the cardiologist failed to recognize that Coumadin would not reach therapeutic levels for several days and with a history of one week of AFib, the drug Heparin was needed to “bridge the gap” until Coumadin reached a therapeutic level.