On August 11, 2006, a Virginia jury returned a $3.5 million verdict after a one week medical malpractice trial in favor of a gastric-bypass patient and her family for the woman’s injuries that resulted from allegedly negligent medical care. The 36-year-old woman’s weight was about double of her ideal weight when she and her physicians decided that gastric-bypass surgery was necessary for her to loose her dangerously unhealthy weight. Despite her severe obesity, she was a happy, energetic employed wife and mother of four before her surgery.
The gastric-bypass surgery (which involves surgically making the stomach smaller that causes food to bypass part of the small intestine which in turn helps the patient feel fuller faster and reduces the amount of food eaten at one sitting) appeared to be successful and without complications until the fourth day after the surgery.
While recovering from her gastric-bypass surgery in the hospital, the woman developed pain in her abdomen (for which she received pain medication), had a fever, and her heart rate was elevated. Her fever subsided but she still had an elevated heart rate and she still had the pain in her abdomen when she was discharged from the hospital to her home the next day.
The same day as her discharge from the hospital, the woman returned to the hospital in intense pain. The surgeon then suspected a leak at her surgical site was causing her symptoms and that she required exploratory surgery to diagnose and fix the leak. Before her exploratory surgery began, she vomited and aspirated some of the vomitus into her lungs (the exploratory surgery went forward, identified the leak, and repaired the leak).
Immediately after the second surgery, the woman’s oxygen level fell dangerously and precipitously which required her to be placed on a heart bypass machine. She was transported to another hospital where she was placed in an induced coma. She was finally discharged home after a lengthy period of hospital treatment.
The woman suffered short-term memory loss, loss of fine motor skills, impaired judgment, depression, social anxiety, and problems controlling her temper as a result of the incident. Her husband described their situation as having another child at home.
The plaintiffs’ expert at the medical malpractice trial testified that peritonitis and sepsis from the leak caused a buildup of fluid in the woman’s lungs that resulted in adult respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), a serious medical condition. The defendants’ expert testified during the medical malpractice trial that the woman’s elevated heart rate was not suggestive of a problem with the initial surgery and that the woman’s lungs could not accept oxygen properly during the second surgery due to aspirational pneumonia instead of ARDS. The jury who heard all of the testimony and considered all of the evidence during the medical malpractice trial sided with the plaintiffs and awarded damages in the amount of $3.5 million.
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