Doctor Renders Patient a Vegetable After Forgetting to Let Him Breathe — Plaintiffs Successful at Trial, Recover Substantial Damages

A doctor forgot to pump oxygen to a patient he was performing surgery on when the patient was immobile and entirely dependent on the doctor for breathing. The patient fell into a vegetative state as a result. The plaintiffs were successful at trial, recovering very substantial damages.

The patient had a bronchoscopy after seeing a specialist. He was having trouble breathing on his right side. The oxygen levels in his blood were normal and it was not considered risky to administer anaesthesia, which would be administered during the procedure. The procedure required him to be continuously ventilated, where the doctor was to continuously ensure that his chest was moving and that he had good colour. Unfortunately, no one in the room, including the nurses, was paying attention to the frequency with which the doctor was squeezing the ventilator. He was required to do this every few seconds to simulate the patient’s breathing and to get oxygen into his body.

During the procedure the patient’s chest was entirely covered with a gown (breaching the standard of care). This does not allow a good view of the chest, and makes it difficult to see if the chest is moving and the patient is breathing. This particular patient’s robe was tied around his neck. When the anaesthesia was started, the patient was totally paralyzed in order to have the operation, and his breathing was entirely dependent on the doctor ventilating him. Forty minutes later, bradycardia, or a severely slow heart beat was found, and one minute later the patient went into cardiac arrest. The amount of oxygen in his blood, referred to as “blood gases”, was well below normal when he was stabilized approximately 2 minutes later. He was severely acidotic, where the acid in the blood is increased, a result of the asphyxiation that could not resolve itself.

It was estimated that the patient had been without sufficient oxygen for between 12 and 18 minutes at some point during the procedure. As a result, he suffered severe hypoxic brain damage and a pulmonary embolism. The massive damage to his cerebral cortex put the patient into a vegetative state.

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The above information is not legal advice. Past results of cases and recoveries by our medical malpractice lawyers against hospitals, doctors, midwives, nurses and other healthcare professionals are not necessarily indicative of future results. The amounts recovered and other litigation outcomes will vary according to the facts in individual cases.