The Pollard case
Mrs. Pollard was 30 years old and in the 18th week of her second pregnancy when she experienced acute, severe right abdominal pain and fever. An abdominal sonogram confirmed an acute appendicitis and she was admitted for immediate surgery. The surgeon removed the ruptured, gangrenous appendix, and ordered a three day course of routine, broad spectrum antibiotics but took no cultures during surgery. 10 days later, during the 20th week of pregnancy, her pain returned. A sonogram confirmed that an abscess of infected fluid had formed below the skin at the surgical site. The same surgeon drained the abscess with a needle, took cultures of the fluid to identify the bacteria and determine the appropriate antibiotic, and ordered a 7 day course of the same routine, broad spectrum anti-biotic.
The culture was reported to the hospital floor on the day she was discharged. The surgeon failed to read the culture report. The surgeon’s two partners saw the patient in follow-up over the next few weeks and also failed to read the report. The three surgeons claimed that the hospital never forwarded a copy to their office but they also admitted that they never sought out the test results. The hospital did not have a policy requiring that positive test results be called to the ordering physician when his test result is reported to the floor after he has discharged the patient.
The culture reported the presence of pseudomonas a., a virulent bacteria requiring IV antibiotics and close management in any patient. In this pregnant patient, the bacteria would have required aggressive treatment supervised by an infectious disease specialist and close monitoring by an OB/GYN specializing in high risk pregnancies. None of this happened.
At 32 weeks gestation, 3 months after the patient had been discharged from the hospital, and with none of her treating physicians aware of the infection raging in her abdomen, the patient went into premature labor. The pseudomonas a. infection had crossed from the mother’s uterus to the placenta and into the fetus’ blood stream and brain. 8 weeks premature the mother’s body took reflexive defense measures, preterm labor, to expel the infected placenta and unborn child.
The child was born with an active blood infection and pneumonia with brain damage caused by both the infection and prematurity. Both the child and mother required IV antibiotics for many weeks.
By age 5 the child suffered from mild cerebral palsy with severe cognitive limitations and autistic-like behavior. He lacks normal communication skills, has no self awareness and no sense of danger or self-protection instincts. He will never be able to live without close supervision. He has a normal life expectancy.
Suit was filed in ALLEGHENY COUNTY against the surgeon for failing to culture the ruptured appendix; the surgeon and his partners for failing to read and respond to the cultures from the second surgery, and the hospital for failing to insure that the test result got into the hands of the treating surgeons.
The case settled during jury selection for mid-seven-figures. The settlement funds were put into a trust managed by a major bank for the purposes of providing for the child’s needs for his lifetime. A portion of the trust went to purchase a home and yard that were extensively modified for the child’s peculiar needs and safety issues.