Lawsuit: Botched propofol anesthesia care kills 33-year old father and teacher


Propofol is the same powerful anesthetic drug that caused the deaths of Michael Jackson and Joan Rivers

October 5, 2013

Painter Law Firm filed a wrongful death medical malpractice lawsuit involving the tragic, avoidable death of Eli Tella. Mr. Tella, age 33, died at Knapp Medical Center, in Weslaco, Texas.

In February 2013, Mr. Tella went to the emergency room at Knapp Medical Center, with stomach pain and nausea. Prior to this illness, he had had a pretty clean bill of health. The emergency room doctor diagnosed Mr. Tella with pancreatitis and related conditions and admitted him to the intensive care unit.

Eventually, Mr. Tella was diagnosed with necrotizing pancreatitis, which required surgeries to remove decaying pancreatic tissue. As is common with this condition, he was also diagnosed with acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) and needed respiratory support.

By March 2013, Mr. Tella had improved—to the point that he was scheduled to be transferred to San Antonio for closure of his abdominal wound and then discharge to home. He certainly looked forward to returning home to be with his wife, Veronica, and their newborn one-year old twin boys, and his job as a teacher at Mercedes Independent School District, in Mercedes, Texas.

Mr. Tella was taken to the operating room for an exploratory surgery to evaluate his abdominal wound and make sure he was ready to be transferred to San Antonio.

A nurse anesthetist started the anesthesia process with no doctor present in the operating room.  As the anesthesia was being given in the operating room, only nursing and tech personnel were present.

The nurse anesthetist gave Mr. Tella Propofol (the same anesthetic drug involved in Michael Jackson’s death) and other medications. Although anesthesiologist was responsible for medically directing the nurse anesthetist, she was not in the operating room area.

Mr. Tella quickly started having problems breathing right after the anesthesia started. Despite the extreme risk to Mr. Tella’s well-being, it took around 20 minutes before the nurse anesthetist and hospital nursing staff got the anesthesiologist or any doctor into the operating room for life-saving help.

In fact, it was almost 20 minutes after Mr. Tella’s breathing problems began before an anesthesiologist finally arrived at the operating room. By then, Mr. Tella had permanent, irreversible brain damage.

Knapp Medical Center’s physicians concluded that Mr. Tella died of a mucous plug that was blocking his airway. Whether from a mucous plug or some other blockage or dislodging of Mr. Tella’s airway, his death was caused by a lack of oxygen to his brain. 

Anesthesiologists are trained in ways to remove those plugs and treat other conditions that cause a blocked or dislodged airway. According to our expert critical care doctor and anesthesiologist, Mr. Tella’s tragic death would have been avoided if the anesthesiologist had been directing the nurse anesthetist, and if the nurse anesthetist and hospital nursing staff in the operating room had promptly called the anesthesiologist or another physician for help.

Painter Law Firm filed the lawsuit on behalf of the family of Eli Tella against Knapp Medical Center, the anesthesiologist and the certified registered nurse anesthetist. The case was assigned Cause No. C-6160-13-E, in the 275th District Court of Hidalgo County, Texas, where Judge Juan Partida is presiding.

9/1/15 update: The Court has approved a confidential agreement of the parties that has resulted in the resolution of this case.

Click here to read the lawsuit petition.

Robert Painter

Robert Painter is a medical malpractice lawyer at Painter Law Firm PLLC.


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