A stroke is caused by a blocked blood vessel in the brain or by bleeding in the brain. In either case, it constitutes an emergency that needs immediate medical attention in order to limit the amount of damage there is to the brain, and any disability that is experienced during the stoke’s aftermath. Symptoms of a stroke include severe headache, numbness, weakness, trouble walking, dizziness, vision problems, slurred speech or an inability to talk. Any stroke should be taken seriously, as all are potentially life threatening. Strokes are leading cause of disability, the second leading cause of dementia, and the fourth leading cause of death.
Most stroke survivors have some disability, are more vulnerable to infectious diseases such as pneumonia and often fight with depression.
Thrombotic strokes are caused by blood clots in the brain. These represent 3/4 of all strokes. The clots interrupt the flow of oxygen to the brain causing symptoms and damage. Some of these stokes are pre-empted by a Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA). TIAs normally pass in about 15 minutes or less, but symptoms are similar to that of a stroke, and are often felt on one side of the body. After the episode, circulation and oxygen is restored, and there is no lasting damage to the brain. Although they aren’t an immediate danger, these too should be reported, because they often indicate that there is a high risk of a stroke occurring in the near future.
A cerebral hemorrhage is bleeding in the brain, caused by brain aneurysms that rupture in the brain. Aneurysms form when blood vessels are weakened by inflammation and leak. A pouch forms on the weakened spot and balloons in the weakened spot of the artery wall, producing a terrible headache. In 40% of the cases, this type of stroke will lead to death within a month, while Thrombotic strokes are largely survivable, even though they can be detrimental to a person’s quality of life.
Failure to Consider Medical and Family History
Two of the heftiest payouts from malpractice suits ever centered around stroke victims. The first is a Pennsylvania case that resulted in a $217 million payout. A 44 year old patient with hypertension, diabetes, elevated cholesterol, and family history of stroke went into a hospital Emergency Department with a headache, nausea, dizziness, confusion and double vision. He was tended to by a midlevel provider who ordered blood tests at two CT scans a few hours apart and read both as being negative for stroke. The patient was sent home with a diagnosis of sinusitis and headache, which was approved by the Emergency Department physician. The physician did not stop to consider the patient’s medical and family history, or conduct a neurological assessment, or examine the patient personally. He just went along with the mid-level diagnosis.
The next morning the man returned to the Emergency Department as his symptoms had gotten worse. This time, the stroke was confirmed, but treatment fell short. The man spent three months in a coma, and needed to stay in care facilities for another six months. In the end, he sustained mental disabilities as well paralysis that constituted a a permanent paraplegic state. A lawsuit quickly followed, asserting that the original Emergency Department physician should have detected and treated the patient for his stroke symptoms when he first came in. Through the first 16 months of legal action the midlevel provider’s name was not revealed. Once his identity was discovered, the patient’s attorney discovered that he was an unlicensed PA, who had failed the licensing PA test four times.
Misdiagnosis of a Stroke
Another case of stroke related malpractice was reported by the Washington Post, and involved a $21.5 million dollar payout charged against a Veteran’s hospital in New Hampshire. It was the highest payout for a personal injury case involving just one person in the state’s history. The 60 year old Navy Vet went to the VA with symptoms of partial blindness and headaches and did not receive a diagnosis, testing, medication, or follow up care. Six weeks later, a massive stroke left him with “locked-in syndrome.” He was fully conscious, and able to feel pain, but kept a extremely limited movement ability of his eyes and head. The judge empathized, and assumed that he had suffered psychological trauma as well as he was. “trapped and unable to communicate.” Although the situation warranted consultations with a neurologist and cardiologist, neither happened. An expert witness in the case state that the VA had “medically abandoned” the patient. He received $13.4 million to cover current and future medical care, and $8.2 million for pain and suffering.
Emergency rooms are fast paced by nature, and taking short cuts such as not analyzing patient records and medical histories, missing the signs of strokes or heart attacks, and general organ failure are things that happen too frequently. If you’ve suffered stroke symptoms, only to have your symptoms disregarded by professionals, you didn’t get the care you deserved. In medicine, ignored problems can quickly become magnified. Everyone deserves to get quality care the first time. To learn how we can help, contact Meinhart, Smith, & Manning for a free consultation.