A cardiac catheterization is a common procedure used every day for diagnosing and treating coronary artery disease. Part of the procedure typically involves injecting dye to make the vessels easier to visualize on x-ray. Unfortunately, some patients can have an allergic reaction to dye. In some cases, the allergic reaction can be fatal. A medical malpractice trial recently conducted in Baltimore involved this very issue. There, a jury found doctors responsible for the death of a woman who suffered a fatal reaction to dye used during a cardiac catheterization procedure when the woman had demonstrated she was at increased risk of being allergic to dye.
According to the medical malpractice lawsuit, Sherry Pittman was 52 years old when she saw doctors at MidAtlantic complaining of chest pain. After testing, doctors found Pittman had a normal heart size and normal heart function with mild hardening of tissue and no significant narrowing of vessels. According to the family's medical malpractice lawyer, there was no evidence Ms. Pittman had coronary artery disease but doctors went ahead and still ordered a cardiac catheterization procedure. In addition, MidAtlantic physicians had been told by Pittman she had a previous severe reaction to a bee sting five years earlier which seemingly put the physicians on notice she may have a severe allergic to dyeing agents. According to the lawsuit, the severe bee sting reaction required doctors to determine the extent of her tolerance to dyeing agents before conducting the procedure with a full dosage of dye.
Before doctors performed the cardiac catheterization on Pittman, they gave her two doses each of prednisone and Benadryl to prevent an allergic reaction to dye contrast rather than conducting testing to determine the extent of her tolerance to dye. The medication given proved woefully insufficient. After being injecting with the full dosage of dye, Pittman suffered a severe allergic reaction and died later that day. An autopsy revealed Pittman did not have coronary artery disease.
At trial, the jury heard testimony from medical experts for the plaintiff and defense. A cardiologist for the Plaintiff, Dr. Burce Charash, testified MidAtlantic physicians deviated from the standard of care in two ways. First, MidAtlantic failed to appreciate the risk of Pittman's allergic reaction to dye and failed to order tests that would have revealed the extent of her risk. Second, Dr. Charash testified MidAtlantic should not have ordered the cardiac catheterization to begin with because pre-op testing showed she had a very low probability of coronary heart disease. The defense expert, Dr. Jonothan Dubin, disagreed with Plaintiff's experts on both points. He testified MidAtlantic doctors complied with the standard of care which included ordering the cardiac catheterization based on the medical information available to them.
After a week-long trial, the jury disagreed with the defense. The jury awarded Pittman's two surviving brothers a total of $1 million in damages. The verdict was later reduced because of Maryland's cap on non-economic damages in medical malpractice cases.
The Daily Record, Jury Sets Damages At $1M In Death From Dye, May 13, 2012.
Wikipedia, Cardiac Catheterization, Viewed August 22, 2012.