Woman settles medical malpractice case for $1 million

Issue December 2003 By Krista Zanin

A woman referred to her attorney through the MBA's Lawyer Referral Service recently received a $1 million settlement after enduring a horrific illness allegedly resulting from surgery.

Atty. Clyde D. Bergstresser represented the woman who sued her attending gynecologist, a medical resident and a radiologist by alleging that doctors' mistakes during an unnecessary hysterectomy led her to becoming severely ill with a flesh-eating bacteria.

Bergstresser said the medical team handling his client committed multiple acts of negligence, from misreading an ultrasound to giving her an unnecessary hysterectomy. A mishap during the surgery led to her sustaining necrotizing fasciitis, a flesh-eating disease, he said.

"It's amazing she did survive," said Bergstresser, of the firm Campbell Campbell Edwards and Conroy of Boston. "The only thing you can do is cut (the diseased skin) out. You can't otherwise cure it … They had to cut all of the skin, fat, muscle, fascia from her pubis to the ribs … from side to side."

The woman's painful ordeal began after she went to see her doctor because she had a history of bleeding while undergoing hormone replacement therapy (HRT). She went to have an ultrasound done, but the report issued by the radiologist gave two drastically inconsistent readings - a verbal reading showing a mildly enlarged area while a numerical figure was larger than anyone had seen. The larger figure prompted the doctor to recommend the woman have a hysterectomy even though the figure was actually a typographical error, according to Bergstresser.

Because the number was so drastically high, the reading should have prompted the doctor to call the radiologist and inquire about the figure rather than recommend the surgery, he said.

"It was a typo and (the radiologist) shouldn't have missed it, but if you read the report, there's no way you could not have seen a wild inconsistency," Bergstresser said. "The clinician didn't call up and (the doctor) recommended, at least in a significant part based on that report, a hysterectomy."

Bergstresser said there would have been other medical methods to determine whether the woman was suffering from a malignancy other than having to undergo a hysterectomy.

"Our allegation from the get-go was that the hysterectomy was unnecessary, not just based on this misreading of the report, but also there were other less invasive ways to pursue a diagnosis including a D&C (dilatation and curettage)," Bergstresser said.

During the hysterectomy, the doctor and a resident had to cut through a number of adhesions in the woman's abdomen caused by prior surgeries. During the surgery, one of the adhesions was cut and allegedly not sewed up, Bergstresser said.

Within 24 hours of the surgery, the woman became extremely sick, because intestinal material was leaking into her peritoneum, which resulted in nectrotizing fasciitis, which is often referred to as the flesh-eating disease, he said.

The disease is caused by bacteria that gets into the body, quickly reproduces and gives off toxins and enzymes that destroy the soft tissue and fascia, which quickly becomes gangrenous. That tissue must be surgically removed to save the patient.

The infection caused the woman to have to undergo multiple surgeries over several years and she encountered additional difficulties because she was forced to use a colostomy bag.

"It's impacted her mobility and life in many ways," Bergstresser said.

The woman hired Bergstresser after her daughter called the MBA's Lawyer Referral Service. The case settled close to trial.

"It's important to note how courageous and strong my client was in surviving this and handling the legal process," Bergstresser said.

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