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Woman's death blamed on unnecessary brain surgery

Imagine, for a moment, going to the hospital for one surgery, and then waking up having undergone a completely different procedure. For one family outside of New Jersey dealing with the death of a loved one, this is a difficult reality that they must confront. After the family won a medical malpractice suit against an out-of-state hospital that performed the wrong operation on their family member, a jury awarded the family $21 million.

After suffering from a heart attack in Oct. 2011, an 81-year-old woman returned returned to the hospital in Jan. 2012. At the time, she required a procedure to correct the bilateral jaw displacement from which she was suffering. She underwent a CT scan prior to her procedure, but after the hospital mistakenly swapped her scan results with another patient's results, her doctors reviewed the wrong results. Those results indicated that she had significant bleeding in her brain. After rushing her into emergency brain surgery, they did not find any indication of bleeding.

Shortly after the conclusion of the unexpected brain surgery, a doctor admitted that her results had likely been swapped with someone else's. The surgery was apparently too much for the elderly patient to handle, and she had to be placed on life support. After 60 days, the woman's family made the difficult decision to remove her from the ventilator that was keeping her alive.

The officer in charge of patient safety claims that there was no lapse in the implementation of safety protocols at the hospital, but it still remains unclear exactly how the two results were swapped. Dealing with the death of a loved one is rarely an easy task, and family members are often left to handle the aftermath of planning funerals and dealing with the victim's estate. However, surviving New Jersey family members can be awarded compensation by successfully litigating a medical malpractice claim. Any recourse received through a settlement or jury's decision can be applied toward related damages.

Source:, "Family awarded $21M in fatal brain surgery mix-up", JC Reindl and L.L. Brasier, May 7, 2015

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Alan D. Bell
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