The mother of a young boy filed a medical malpractice lawsuit in Connecticut alleging their pediatrician failed to diagnose bacterial meningitis resulting in the loss of her son's eyesight. The lawsuit alleges the boy's mother took her son, then 7-years-old, to their pediatrician complaining of a severe headache. The pediatrician purportedly diagnosed the boy with an ear infection. Even after several additional visits with worsening symptoms over the next few days, the pediatrician did not send the boy to the ER where, it is alleged, a spinal tap would have revealed meningitis and prompted immediate treatment to halt the disease. Instead, the boy was not sent to the ER until it was too late after he went into a comma while home, resulting in blindness and other injuries.
Meningitis is a potentially life-threatening condition, particularly if bacterial, which causes inflammation of the membranes that surround the brain or spinal cord. If not treated in a timely fashion by doctors, bacterial meningitis can rapidly progress resulting in permanent brain damage or even death. Normally a complication of that occurs in the blood stream, meningitis can directly decrease the ability of the brain to protect itself from blood contamination. When this brain barrier is invaded by meningitis, infectious organisms invade triggering an inflammatory response. As this inflammatory response increases, brain tissue can begin to swell causing decreased blood flow to vital areas of the brain.
The signs and symptoms of bacterial meningitis vary depending upon age. In children older than one, classic signs and symptoms of bacterial meningitis may include one or more of the following: headache, nausea, vomiting, increased sensitivity to light, fever, altered mental status, lethargy, seizure activity, and neck stiffness or pain among others. For viral meningitis, the most common symptoms resemble those of the flu such as fever, muscle aches, cough and headache.
Because meningitis is considered a medical emergency, the most appropriate treatment is at a hospital emergency room rather than a doctor's office. Meningitis requires a prompt diagnosis and immediate medical treatment. This is especially true when meningitis is bacterial in nature. Because meningitis is a potential life threatening condition, treatment may begin even before all testing has been completed. Antibiotics are a critical component of treatment for bacterial meningitis. Antibiotic treatment is given to help fight the infection as quickly as possible in order to reduce the likelihood of any permanent damage or death. Prognosis depends largely on the timeliness of the diagnosis and treatment, along with the severity of the infection.
In the case of the Connecticut boy who suffered blindness, his medical malpractice lawyer must prove the pediatrician deviated from the standard of care by failing to recognize meningitis as a possible diagnosis and send the boy to the emergency room immediately. (Of course, the plaintiff may have addition theories against the pediatrician as well as other potential defendants.) In addition, there must be proof that had this been done in a timely manner, this boy's blindness (and/or other injuries) would have likely been prevented. Undoubtedly, the defense will contend the pediatrician exercised reasonable judgment by not sending the boy to the ER perhaps suggesting the headache alone was not enough to suspect possible meningitis. In addition, the defense will likely contend it is speculative or unlikely to contend the boy's current condition would be any different if he were sent to the ER sooner. If this case does not settle before trial, a jury will likely be asked to answer these and other important questions.
The Hartford Courant, Lawsuit Charges That Tolland Boy Lost His Eyesight After Doctor Failed To Diagnose Meningitis, January 17, 2012.
Emedicine Health, Meningitis In Children, February 9, 2012.