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Mix-up in Labeling of Echocardiogram Tape Leading to Death of College Student

Filed under Misdiagnosis

The Walters Case

In this case, we represented the Estate of our deceased client, Shawn Walters.

Shawn Walters, age 19, was attending college and a member of his college basketball team. In September, during basketball practice, Shawn developed acute shortness of breath and a rapid heart rate at practice and it was recommended that he obtain a medical evaluation.

After practice, Shawn went to the emergency room of a local hospital where an EKG and chest x-ray was performed. After his examination in the emergency room, Shawn was then referred to his family physician, for possible further testing and medical clearance in order to resume his participation on the basketball team.

After the PCP’s exam, the PCP referred Shawn to a Cardiology Testing Center for further heart testing where Shawn was given a stress Thalium test and an echocardiogram. At Shawn’s follow-up appointment with his PCP on October 28, his PCP informed him that the Cardiology Testing Center’s cardiologist concluded that Shawn had a normal stress Thalium and echocardiogram that showed mild enlargement of the left ventricle consistent with athletic heart. Based on this information, the PCP medically cleared Shawn to return to basketball practice and to resume his normal activities.

Tragically, on December 11th, Shawn’s college roommate found him in his dorm having a grand mal seizure in his bed. Shawn’s roommate immediately got help, lowered Shawn onto the floor, and called campus security. When security arrived, Shawn had cardiac arrested and the security personnel began CPR. Shawn reportedly responded to the CPR and began to breathe again in the ambulance; however, during the transport to the hospital, Shawn again arrested in the ambulance, and ultimately, could not be resuscitated.

An autopsy was performed by the Erie County Coroner who noted the cause of death to be cardiac arrhythmia and hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (grossly enlarged heart).

Confused at to how this could happen, Shawn’s parents retained our firm to look into possible negligence on behalf of the involved parties. Our firm obtained a copy of the echocardiogram (VHS tape) and had this tape, along with the autopsy and medical records, reviewed by the leading authority on hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. This expert cardiologist agreed with the Coroner’s conclusion and further opined that an echocardiogram performed on Shawn by the Cardiac Testing Center (the test that should be diagnostic for hypertrophic cardiomyopathy) actually depicted a heart of some patient other than the Shawn (Shawn’s heart could not have grown so dramatically in such a short amount of time).

On behalf of Shawn’s family and his Estate, we brought suit against the Cardiology Testing Center. Suit was not brought against the PCP because his clearance of Shawn was reliant upon the results he was given by the Cardiology Testing Center.

On its behalf, the Defendant retained another world-renown cardiologist expert who specialized in hypertrophic cardiomyopathy; however, this cardiologist essentially agreed with our expert cardiologist – that the heart depicted in the autopsy could not be the same heart in the echocardiogram labeled as Shawn Walters.

Unsatisfied with this result, the Defendant then retained a cardiac pathologist who performed testing on the specimens of the heart kept from the autopsy. The Defendant’s pathologist then opined that Shawn did not die of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (i.e. our cardiologist expert was wrong, its own cardiologist expert was wrong, and the Erie County Coroner was wrong) and that Shawn likely died of a prescription drug reaction, even though no such drug was found in his blood stream (i.e. the autopsy toxically screen is also wrong).

One week prior to the scheduled jury trial, the case settled for a substantial amount.