Medical error can have devastating effects. Here, in their own words, Connecticut families tell the stories of how medical error changed their lives forever.
It's called polycythemia vera, the Mediterranean sickle cell disease, an over-abundance of red blood cells. But that's not what killed my father. What killed him was bad medicine and careless decision-making. Based on the recommendation of his primary physician and his urologist, my father went in for a routine surgery to remove his prostate. Eleven torturous days later he was dead.
My Dad's name was Rudolph Anthony Passero, Jr., or Rudy for short. He had been a dentist in Norwalk for many years, and was an important part of the community. He always participated enthusiastically in the many events in which my brother and I were involved. We miss him very much.
At a pre operation appointment, he informed his urologist that he had polycythemia vera and wanted to know if that effected surgical procedures. The physician insisted that it didn't matter; no special measures needed to be taken.
But it did matter. Soon after the first surgery, it became clear that there was a lot of bleeding. The blood of people with PCV doesn't clot like normal people's, but the doctors didn't take this into consideration, even as he continued to bleed internally. My father's stomach was badly distended. Strapped to a hospital bed in the recovery room, he repeatedly told my brother and mother that he felt he was not getting enough oxygen.
Over the course of two days and two additional exploratory surgeries, his problems grew and his health deteriorated rapidly. The doctors knew that there was bleeding but not the extent. He was put into intensive care and on a respirator and lingered in a confused and irritated, drug induced state.
After he was whisked off to a quiet floor in the hospital, my mother, brother or I was by his bedside for more than a week. We were repeatedly urged to take him home, even though he could hardly get out of bed, even with assistance. On a beautiful summer Sunday, he died of a pulmonary embolism - a large blood clot, ironically - that the doctors say dislodged itself from his leg.
Standard procedure, prior to surgery, for anyone with polycythemia is to perform a course of blood work over several weeks to prepare the patient's blood to handle the trauma of surgery. A family friend found this information on an internet web site and sent it to us. Sadly it arrived after my dad had died. No one, not his primary physician, surgeon, nor the hospital, has ever explained what happened.
I want to see change in the system. I would like to see mandatory continuing physician education and evaluation to ensure that the pre-operative procedures that might have saved my fathers life are known and practiced. Computerized data bases of patients and their conditions, medications and standard courses of care might also be a positive step to improving outcomes.
Most importantly, I want to see accountability. A readily accessible, up-to-date database of doctors and their history of patient care including malpractice settlements, jury awards and actions would help patients make more informed decisions about their health care providers.
Doctors with previous settlements or actions, according to the research submitted to the CT General Assembly, often have multiple infractions. This information may have helped our family to be more informed consumers of our health care services instead of blindly trusting the opinions of our doctors, who apparently did not do their homework.
The medical establishment has waited long enough to institute change. Now it is time to legislate it.
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