A New York woman and her family have been awarded $56 million after surgeons performing one of the most common surgeries to fix back pain lost a piece of bone in her spinal sheath, misdiagnosed their own mistake, and left her quadriplegic.
In 2009, Patricia Jones went under the knife at Good Samaritan Hospital in Suffern, New York, to get rid of her back and nerve pain at 56, so that she wouldn’t be limited by her body.
But 24 hours after the surgery, she was unable to feel or move any of her limbs.
During the operation Dr George Alexander Jones and Dr Daniel Spitzer performed, a piece of bone somehow broke off and got lodged in sheath surrounding Patricia’s spinal cord.
The trapped bone crushed part of the spinal cord, permanently damaging some of the nerve fibers, and leaving Patricia’s arms and legs paralyzed.
Dr Jones and Dr Spitzer tried to blame the disastrous outcome of the surgery on a spinal stroke they claimed Patricia suffered in the OR – but a Rockland County judge disagreed, yesterday, and awarded the Joneses tens of millions for their agony.
A New York court awarded Patricia (left) and John (right) Jones $56 million after doctors botched Patricia’s back surgery in 2009 and left the then-56-year-old quadriplegic
In a photo of Patricia, now 66, and her husband, John, she stands tall, smiling on a boat on a sunny day, under clear blue skies.
Today, Patricia would only be able to board that boat if it had a wheelchair ramp and John could come along to push her.
Back in 2009, Patricia was frustrated by the frequent tingling in her hands and feet and by the back pain that plagued her.
She sought the advice of a neurologist and was told that one of the most common spinal surgeries could alleviate her discomfort.
It was called a laminectomy, a relatively simple spinal procedure to alleviate pressure on the vertebrae by surgically removing a small piece of the bone over the spinal canal to give the nerves there a little more breathing room.
It’s not without risks, but the mortality rate of the procedure is only about 0.13 percent and hundreds of thousands are performed every year.
Later, Patricia’s attorney, Evan Torgan, would argue in the malpractice suit against the doctors that they should have first tried to treat Patricia with anti-inflammatory drugs and physical therapy.
But the neurologists skipped straight to surgery.
During surgeries like Patricia’s, surgeons carefully monitor the fragile spine and spinal column.
According to Torgan’s argument in court, the monitor alerted the surgeons that something had gone wrong and Patricia’s spinal cord had been injured.
But they carried on. When they wrote up the surgery – as is required – they made no mention of any errors or unexpected incidents during the operation.
‘Surgeons, who were operating on her neck, would find out that her cords had been damaged through monitors during the procedure,’ said Torgan in court, lohud.com reported.
Patricia’s ill-fated operation took place at Good Samaritan Hospital in Suffren, New York
‘And what she now knows is they didn’t tell anybody that.’
For the first 24 hours after surgery, Patricia seemed OK.
But suddenly her blood pressure plummeted and Patricia could no longer move her arms or legs.
It didn’t seem to concern her medical team all that much though. A CAT scan to assess the problem wasn’t ordered for three hours.
When Patricia was finally taken for a CAT scan, a radiologist pointed out that she was bleeding into her spinal canal, a condition called a hemotoma.
This condition is considered an emergency. Blood doesn’t belong in this space and as it pools there it can damage the spinal cord and cause permanent damage – like paralysis.
But the practice where Dr Jones and Dr Spitzer then worked, now called Hudson Valley Brain and Spine (previously called Hudson Valley Neurosurgical Associates) didn’t believe it was a hematoma.
Instead, the doctors said Patricia had had a stroke and that there was nothing they could have done to predict or prevent blood from being cut off from Patricia’s spine and causing her paralysis.
Evan Torgan, Patricia’s attorney, claimed the doctors knew all along and did nothing to prevent Patricia’s permanent injury
Once more, no one copped to the fact that there was a piece of bone lodged in Patricia’s spinal sheath – exactly the kind of thing that could cause a torrent of blood to flood her spinal canal.
The damage from the hematoma might have been reparable if the surgeons had acted fast – but they didn’t.
‘She’s been in a wheelchair since August of 2009 because they didn’t want to tell anyone what happened in the OR,’ said Torgan in court.
Now, Patricia’s ‘existence has been marred by a physical disability that never had to happen, that didn’t have to happen if it weren’t for departures from accepted standards of medical practice.’
The jury agreed, awarding Jones $20 million for her pain and suffering alone, plus $10 million to her husband for ‘lost services’.
The remainder of the $56 million – the largest medical malpractice award on record in Rockland County – was awarded to cover the future costs of Patricia’s care, which will undoubtedly be substantial.
The Joneses also settled with Good Samaritan Hospital and the radiology company that read Patricia’s scans during the botched process.
Good Samaritan Hospital, Dr Jones and Dr Spitzer could not be reached for comment at time of publication.