On Tuesday, July 31, 2012, a Cook County, Illinois medical malpractice jury awarded the medical malpractice plaintiff $7 million after a three-week trial, for a man who died in a local hospital emergency room after he had suffered an asthma attack at home. The Chicago truck driver was alone at home on July 14, 2002 when he suffered an asthma attack and dialed 911 for transportation to the emergency room. The man was a long-time asthmatic and on two prior occasions had to be rushed to the hospital where he had to be intubated due to his asthma.
In the emergency room, the doctors provided the man with a nebulizer treatment for his asthma from which the man appeared to be responding. However, early the next morning after the nebulizer treatment, the nursing staff left the man alone to attend to other matters. When they returned to the man’s bedside thirty minutes after leaving him, he was found slumped over. During those thirty minutes, the medical malpractice claim alleged that the man suffered respiratory arrest, followed by cardiac arrest, and resulted in the man suffering permanent and debilitating brain damage from which he died four years later at the age of 47.
The medical malpractice claim alleged that the medical staff at the hospital emergency room failed to obtain the man’s prior history of hospitalizations due to his asthma and that they further failed to perform a test to measure the amount of air exhaled in a single breath that would have indicated the severity of his breathing restriction (known as a Peak Expiratory Flow Rate test).
What Is Asthma?
Asthma is a disorder that causes the airways of the lungs to swell and narrow, leading to wheezing, shortness of breath, chest tightness, and coughing. Asthma is caused by inflammation in the airways. When an asthma attack occurs, the muscles surrounding the airways become tight and the lining of the air passages swells. This reduces the amount of air that can pass by. In sensitive people, asthma symptoms can be triggered by breathing in allergens. Common asthma triggers include pet hair or dander, dust, changes in weather (most often cold weather), chemicals in the air or in food, exercise, mold, pollen, respiratory infections, the common cold, stress, and tobacco smoke.
Most people with asthma have attacks separated by symptom-free periods. Some people have long-term shortness of breath with episodes of increased shortness of breath. Either wheezing or a cough may be the main symptom. Asthma attacks can last for minutes to days, and can become dangerous if the airflow is severely restricted. Symptoms of asthma include cough with or without sputum production, pulling in of the skin between the ribs when breathing, shortness of breath that gets worse with exercise or activity, and wheezing (wheezing that comes in episodes with symptom-free periods in between, that may be worse at night or in early morning, that may go away on its own, that gets better when using drugs that open the airways (bronchodilators), that gets worse when breathing in cold air, that gets worse with exercise, that gets worse with heartburn (reflux), and/or that usually begins suddenly).
There is no cure for asthma, although symptoms sometimes improve over time. With proper self management and medical treatment, most people with asthma can lead normal lives. The complications of asthma can be severe and may include death, decreased ability to exercise and take part in other activities, lack of sleep due to nighttime symptoms, permanent changes in the function of the lungs, persistent cough, and trouble breathing that requires breathing assistance (ventilator).
While most people have heard about asthma, many do not realize that asthma sufferers, both young and older, die from the condition every year. Some of the asthma deaths are avoidable if timely and proper care and treatment are provided.
If you or a loved one suffered avoidable injuries or death due to an asthma attack that was not properly diagnosed or treated, you may be entitled to compensation for your injuries and losses. The prompt advice from a local medical malpractice attorney may help you decide if a medical malpractice claim can be made.
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