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Heart of the matter: wrongful death and cardiac arrests

I. A Wrongful Death Lawyer

Meeting with a qualified wrongful death attorney will help focus the proper response to potential medical negligence, as well as other related issues. For example, in the following case, not only was a wrongful death action brought by the wrongful death attorney, but also a claim for civil conspiracy between the treating medical staff.

II.  The Meaning of “Emergency” Treatment

Archie H. didn’t know that he had only a few weeks to live. Because he lived alone, Archie didn’t clearly communicate to anyone, before he died, exactly when his symptoms first presented themselves. Nor did the questionable accuracy of the medical records regarding his condition help enough. These records were later obtained by the estate’s wrongful death attorney, and did not adequately point to the exact onset of Archie’s fatal condition. The records could only show that Archie knew he had real problems, sometime in “late June.”

It is certain that Archie felt bad enough on June 30, and again on July 1… such that his symptoms became too painful to manage on his own. He went to Anson County Hospital’s emergency room.

In retrospect, the wrongful death attorney zeroed in on what appeared to be serious missteps from the very moment that Archie entered the hospital system for help.

The wrongful death attorney described the initial recorded symptoms as constant feelings of pain and discomfort. The pain was centered (by not only) in Archie’s chest, but “radiated.” There was enough evidence introduced by the wrongful death attorney to demonstrate pains went “into his shoulders and down both arms.” Nausea and dizziness were also present. Subsequent investigation revealed Archie told doctors about difficulty breathing, and difficulty in resting comfortably for almost two weeks. Because Archie went to the hospital emergency room, perhaps the medical history may have been a little sketchy. There was also, however, an x-ray done at the time Archie’s admission. A radiologist examined the chest x-ray, but it was the emergency room physician who diagnosed Archie as having a “pneumonia condition.” The ER record apparently was fairly thin on whether there were other conditions as well. Ideally, the ER can stabilize and then staff can work on appropriate follow-up. Did that happen?

A referral was made to a licensed physician by the ER doctor. As it turned out, the referring physician reviewed the x-ray report, which indicated there might be a “serious cardiac deterioration.” This is where the dateline became so crucial. A week after this initial follow-up, there had been no change in Archie’s condition of pain. Symptoms remained basically the same, and unfortunately, the treatment plan had also remained the same. The wrongful death attorney was able to show that there had arguably been only a very cursory examination of Archie in all this time. It was eventually shown that the medicine had not been changed from treating an pneumonia-like “condition.”

On July 8, at only age 35, Archie passed away.

III.   Getting Out of the Danger Zone, Then Getting Answers

These facts of potentially missed opportunities and miscommunication are often part of common problems noted by wrongful death attorneys in medical negligence cases. An initial diagnosis may unfairly track someone into a treatment plan…a treatment plan that should be quickly changed. The initial handoff between ER and MD, and the admission records, may not be clear enough to actually get to underlying problems. In this case, the underlying cardiac condition seems to have been inadequately noted, both in terms of symptoms and the x-ray report.

With these facts, the wrongful death attorney particularly questioned why the follow-up process had not included a referral with any other physician by July 6: almost two weeks after the beginning of Archie’s chest pain. The wrongful death attorney had also discovered by this time that Archie had specifically told the MD of how Archie’s own father had died of heart disease: that Archie himself been treated only two years before for high blood pressure. All of this information, the wrongful death attorney stressed, was available through Archie’s record from the ER and then afterwards. These records were available to the MD and the MD’s physician’s assistant. Instead, the physician assistant continued the pneumonia medication, and also prescribed additional medication–medication that was unrelated to treating a heart condition. This was why the physician assistant was also named in a lawsuit by the wrongful death attorney.

IV.  Are you getting a silent treatment?

The cause of death was established by the wrongful death attorney as being massive myocardial infarction, directly related to heart disease. The evidence required the wrongful death attorney to also exclude any other contributing cause…because Archie had been treated for pneumonia. In fact, the wrongful death attorney had expert evidence showing that Archie did not die of pneumonia, and that there was no pneumonia condition that contributed to Archie’s death.

Instead of demonstrable connection to what he was being treated for, the wrongful death attorney found something equally disturbing. The wrongful death attorney alleged that the defendants had “destroyed medical records concerning medical treatment of” (Archie) “and fabricated a record of a July 6…consultation between them.”

Conclusions:   

There can, sometimes, appear to be a wall or “Code” of silence between medical professionals in these cases of alleged wrongful death. The patient’s inability to get satisfactory answers on what may have caused or contributed to a death should not stop someone from seeking the help of an experienced wrongful death attorney. In fact, if you feel you are getting the “silent treatment,” it’s even more important to promptly get help from a qualified wrongful death attorney. As this case demonstrates, it is absolutely in the public interest to try and address any lack of cooperation from hospitals or staff. In the midst of this tragedy, the need to act before any rights are lost are often a barrier to getting advice from a wrongful death attorney, too.

In this case, it’s also worth noting that Archie left behind a brother as a survivor. Seeking justice, for someone who has been harmed in a medical setting, should not be lost because they leave the world with no partners or children. Representing the grief of family members including siblings and parents – helps ensure that potential injustices are addressed. The real hope for a successful and experienced wrongful death attorney is to achieve this justice, and help prevent any similar mistakes in the future.

So, if you, a family member, brother or sister, domestic partner or other  loved one have been hurt in a medical or health care setting—or have questions about insurance claims, unreleased medical records, or need help related to counseling malpractice, or involving related claims or your legal rights or hearings, please contact us.  You will speak with a wrongful death attorney, who also understands medical malpractice law, who can best answer your questions.  There is never a fee for this initial consultation.

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