It has been reported that an Indiana medical malpractice wrongful death claim filed by the widow of a 61-year-old prominent molecular biologist who was in the hospital recovering from a stroke when a nurse recklessly caused his death on November 1, 2019, one week after giving him massive doses of fentanyl instead of a hydrating solution, was settled in October 2020 under confidential terms.
The Underlying Facts
The medical researcher, who helped pioneer a promising approach to fighting cancer by turning cancer cells against themselves, came to the Indiana University School of Medicine in 2017 as the inaugural Sid and Lois Eskenazi Chair in Cancer Research and as Associate Director of Translational Research at the Simon Cancer Center. His years-long hard work and dedication was finally paying off with research projects that received more than $20 million in grants. He was achieving his professional goals and gaining prominence in a promising area of cancer-fighting research when he complained to his out-of-town wife on October 17, 2019 that he felt fatigued and was having balance problems. His wife arranged for a friend to check on him and bring him to his doctor. The friend found him on the floor and too weak to stand up. An ambulance was called and he was transported to the Sid and Lois Eskenazi Hospital in Indianapolis.
The cancer researcher’s medical condition in the hospital stabilized over the course of two days; he began speech therapy, physical therapy, and occupational therapy. By October 20, 2019, his diet was advanced to solid food. However, two days later, his condition worsened and he failed a swallowing test. By October 23, 2019, his breathing became labored. On October 24, a feeding tube was inserted because of his difficulty with swallowing, during which he aspirated a large piece of food from his stomach that lodged in his airway, causing acute respiratory arrest that required that he be placed on a ventilator.
While on a ventilator, he required small doses of fentanyl, a powerful opioid. He was responsive and able to follow simple commands and spontaneously move all of his limbs while on the ventilator. He was expected to be removed from the ventilator on October 26, 2019.
Shortly after 11 p.m. on October 25, a nurse responded to an alarm on his medication pump that indicated that an IV bag of Lactated Ringer’s solution needed to be replaced. The nurse obtained a new bag of the hydrating solution and hung it on the pole alongside other medication bags also attached to the pump. One of those other bags hung on the pole contained the fentanyl, which had been discontinued 12 hours earlier but remained attached to the pump.
The nurse attached the Lactated Ringer’s solution to one channel on the pump but pushed the start button for another channel, which was attached to the bag of fentanyl. An alarm went off but instead of checking the alarm and reading the alarm code, the nurse simply activated the silence button. A few minutes later, another nurse who checked the pump also missed the error. Over a period of 69 minutes, the medical researcher received 1119.4 mcg of fentanyl, which was almost 20 times the largest dose he had received for sedation while on the ventilator before it was discontinued.
It was not until 12:33 p.m. on October 26 that the deadly medical error was identified, but he was not administered Narcan to counter the effects of the fentanyl overdose. A physician did not come to his bedside until 2 a.m. Still, no Narcan was given, despite his blood pressure being too low to provide an adequate supply of oxygen to his brain and other organs. The researcher never regained consciousness; he was removed from life support on November 1, 2019.
The hospital refused to acknowledge that the medication error breached the applicable standard of care and argued that the researcher died from his stroke. In a statement issued on October 21, 2020, the hospital stated: “We can, however, state, unequivocally, that Eskenazi Health is committed to high quality patient care, and never wants a medical error to occur. In the unfortunate and infrequent circumstance when a medical error does occur, we immediately conduct a thorough review to determine the cause of the event, learn everything that we can from the situation, and develop specific action plans to reduce risk and further improve patient safety.”
If you or a loved one were harmed as a result of a medication error in Indiana or in another U.S. state, you should promptly find an Indiana medical malpractice lawyer, or a medical malpractice lawyer in your state, who may investigate your medication error claim for you and represent you or your loved one in a medication error medical malpractice case, if appropriate.
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