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Simple hospital record error leads to near-total paralysis

Patient medical records are important for a variety of reasons. Previous treatment and physician notes often inform any future treatments patients receive, and doctors need to access this information easily. This is largely why U.S. hospitals have been incentivized to switch to electronic health records.

But even with EHRs, critical information will be missed if someone fails to enter it into the record. Simple clerical errors like this can easily lead to patient harm (or death) and medical malpractice lawsuits.

A tragic example comes from Massachusetts, where a woman in peak physical condition was almost entirely paralyzed within hours of giving birth. After running the Boston Marathon in 2004, the woman visited the hospital suffering from dizzy spells. According to news sources, brain abnormalities were detected by a CAT scan and an MRI. Protocol dictated that her name be placed on a list of patients suffering from certain medical conditions. For some reason, this was overlooked.

Four years later, the woman went into the hospital to give birth to her daughter. If she had been placed on that list, her obstetrician would have known to deliver the baby via caesarian section. Instead, she gave birth vaginally, which triggered a massive stroke just a few hours later.

Recovery has been long, difficult, and only marginally successful. She remains mostly paralyzed, has impaired speech and relies on help from hired caretakers. Last month, her medical malpractice trial came to an end and jurors ruled in the woman's favor. She and her family were awarded $35.4 million in damages.

It's difficult to imagine going from being an athlete in great shape to losing nearly all mobility in a matter of hours. There is no adequate compensation for that kind of loss, or for the inability to hold your newborn child for the first year of her life. Medical malpractice awards cannot bring back what was lost, but they can ensure that victims and their families have the resources to live and recover as fully as possible.

Source:, "Woman paralyzed after giving birth receives $35.4M in malpractice suit," Ellen O'Leary, May 9, 2015

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