Woman Wins Claim for Adverse Reaction to Medication

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A woman in Philadelphia has won her claim for an adverse reaction to medication which caused her to go into cardiac arrest from which she suffered permanent brain damage.

In June 2010, Jacqueline DiTore attended the Outpatient´s Department of the Abington Surgical Centre in Pennsylvania for scheduled surgery on her nose. Prior to starting the surgery, her surgeon – Dr Warren Zager – asked a nurse to prepare an injection for a local anaesthetic and soak some cotton balls in a nasal decongestant (Afrin) so that they were ready if there was excessive bleeding during the procedure.

The nurse poured the nasal decongestant into a cup in order to soak the cotton balls before preparing the injection; but a second nurse mistook the contents of the cup as the anaesthetic, drew the Afrin into a syringe and handed it to the doctor. Unaware that the syringe had been filled with nasal decongestant, Dr Zager injected the Afrin into Jacqueline´s nose, and then left his patient to prepare for the surgery.

An anaesthetist present in the operating room saw that Jacqueline´s heart rate had decreased to 36 beats per minute and – unaware that Jacqueline had been injected with sufficient Afrin to cause a 100-fold narrowing of the blood vessels – administered an anticholinergic which brought Jacqueline´s heart rate up to 80 beats per minute.

Dr Zager returned to the operating room to begin the procedure, but Jacqueline still had feeling in her nose. The doctor asked for another injection of anaesthetic to be prepared, and it was then that the mix-up was realised. Unaware of the effect that the Afrin had on Jacqueline´s heart rate, Dr Zager chose to continue with the surgery and injected more anaesthetic into Jacqueline´s nose.

Following the second injection, Jacqueline´s heart rate suddenly increased to 140 beats per minute and her blood pressure registered 260/150. Dr Zager administered Labetalol (a drug used to lower high blood pressure) and Jacqueline´s blood pressure fell so low so quickly that she went into cardiac arrest. Jacqueline was rushed to nearby Abington Memorial Hospital where she was resuscitated.

Soon after her recovery from the cardiac arrest, it became apparent that Jacqueline´s adverse reaction to medication had caused brain damage which left her with impaired cognitive abilities, short-term memory loss and difficulty with her speech. Doctors told Jacqueline that her brain injuries were likely to deteriorate as she gets older and, after seeking legal advice, she made a compensation claim for an adverse reaction to medication against the Abington Surgical Centre and Dr Zager.

Both defendants denied that they were liable for the adverse reaction that caused Jacqueline to go into cardiac arrest but at the Montgomery County Court in Philadelphia before Judge Thomas M. Del Ricci, a jury delivered a verdict in Jacqueline´s favour and awarded her $5.1 million in settlement of her claim for an adverse reaction to medication. The jury found Dr Zager to be 38.5 percent negligent for the adverse reaction and the Abington Surgical Centre 61.5 percent negligent for the circumstances which caused it.