Delay in Diagnosing Stroke Causing Death
The Shaffer Case
This 50 year-old husband and father of two teen-aged boys was healthy, a non-smoker, a non-drinker and in excellent physical condition, serving as a coach for several of his sons’ sports. Driving home from work one summer afternoon, the patient suffered a sudden headache, left sided weakness and disorientation. He was taken by ambulance to a community hospital. A head CT scan did not show a bleeding stroke, so he was admitted to the hospital for observation. Overnight his blood pressure skyrocketed, he suffered loss of some vision and his pain and dizziness got worse. His primary care physician ordered medications to manage the high blood pressure and ordered a neurologist to consult and rule out a possible stroke. The patient deteriorated further and became angry and confused, often signs of a brain bleed. The neurologist ordered a brain MRI and a magnetic resonance angiogram that would be more sensitive for a stroke than the CT scan.
Due to nursing errors, physician inattention and radiology department failures, the MRI was not done for 30 hours from the time it was ordered. Furthermore, the MRI was not read for several more hours despite an order that it be read immediately. By the time the MRI was taken, the patient was comatose. Emergency surgery to relieve pressure on the brain failed and the patient died several days later.
Our experts would have testified that an in-patient with worsening signs and symptoms of a stroke should not wait more than six hours for a brain MRI and never more than overnight. Had the MRI and MRA been taken and read in a timely manner and as ordered, the patient would have been transferred to ICU, closely monitored and treated with anti-coagulants or sent for surgical intervention depending upon the test results. The patient’s chances of surviving the evolving stroke and living a meaningful life would have been much greater had the MRI been timely taken and read.
Suit was filed in Allegheny County. The neurologist and hospital agreed to settle the case during jury selection. The settlement proceeds were equally distributed between the surviving widow and the two teen-aged boys. The sons’ distributions were deposited primarily into investments designed to pay college expenses.