A grieving son recently called Painter Law Firm for help and to answers about how his mother died at a hospital in Laredo, Texas. As is often the case when something bad happens at a hospital, doctors and administrators are tight-lipped.
He shared with me that his mother was in her 70s and had a past medical history of diabetes, renal failure, and atherosclerosis (build-up on the walls of the arteries). She went to the hospital to have an arteriogram done on one of her feet.
An arteriogram is a specialized type of x-ray study designed to assess whether an artery is having a problem like narrowing, blockage, or enlargement. Before the x-ray begins, a doctor places a catheter into an artery, usually accessing it through the patient’s leg. Next, the doctor injects a radiopaque contrast dye into a catheter, which is visible during the x-ray study. Patients are typically under general anesthesia or at least sedation for the whole procedure.
When I looked at the first page of the patient’s autopsy, two things jumped out at me.
First, the pathologist describe the cause of death as complications of atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease. While that’s generally true, that’s not the whole story.
The second thing in the autopsy that got my attention is that she had a history of arteriogram with laceration of the left external iliac artery and mention of previous hemoperitoneum and repair of the laceration. In other words, while the physician performing the arteriogram was inserting or manipulating the catheter, he tore a vital blood vessel and caused significant internal bleeding.
This poor lady’s son explained that his mother was wheeled into the recovery room from the operating room, and the family was told that the arteriogram went fine. It wasn’t long, though, until a family member noticed that the patient was bleeding from the leg where she had the arteriogram performed. She was taken back to surgery, where the lacerated artery was repaired, but it was too late. Her vital organs had already gone too long without oxygen and they started to shut down.
Is it negligence?
A lot of people are surprised to find out that medical experts don’t consider it malpractice or negligence when a doctor or surgeon accidentally causes a laceration or injury to a structure during a procedure. In an arteriogram, the injury could be lacerating a blood vessel. In a cholecystectomy (gallbladder surgery), hernia repair, or other type of abdominal surgery, the complication could be puncturing the bowel or bladder.
On the other hand, it is negligent and a medical mistake when the surgeon or physician doesn’t adequately check for a laceration or perforation and repair it surgically. Depending on the circumstances, the delay can cause infection and sepsis or a loss of blood circulation to vital organs. Either way, that can kill a patient.
As you might imagine, these cases are very fact-specific. If this happens to you or a loved one, call an experienced Texas medical malpractice attorney for help in investigating the potential claim.