On September 5, 2013, a Massachusetts woman who had all four of her limbs amputated after she contracted flesh-eating bacteria while giving birth at a local Massachusetts hospital settled her medical malpractice lawsuit for $9.5 million. The 41-year-old woman alleged in her medical malpractice lawsuit, which named four physicians, five nurses, and an OB-GYN practice as the defendants, that the defendants failed to adequately monitor her after she gave birth by Cesarean section on August 9, 2007, and that they further failed to provide prompt and appropriate medical care to her.
As a result of the substandard medical care that she received at the hospital, the woman claimed that she acquired necrotizing fasciitis (often referred to as the flesh-eating bacteria) that resulted in her losing both of her legs and both of her arms at the elbows, as well as having her uterus, ovaries, gallbladder, and part of her colon removed.
The medical malpractice lawsuit alleged that the defendants failed to review the woman’s pertinent medical history, they failed to appropriately monitor and report her vital signs, they failed to appropriately examine her wound, and they failed to appropriately report the seriousness of her condition.
The woman’s plight even caught the attention of Oprah Winfrey, who promised the woman that she would be provided a new, handicapped-accessible home.
What Is Necrotizing Fasciitis?
According to the CDC, necrotizing fasciitis is a rare but serious bacterial infection that spreads rapidly and destroys the body’s soft tissue. It can be caused by more than one type of bacteria, including group A Streptococcus (group A strep – the most common cause), Klebsiella, Clostridium, E. coli, Staphylococcus aureus, and Aeromonas hydrophila. There are about 650 to 800 cases of necrotizing fasciitis caused by group A strep reported in the United States each year, but the number is probably underreported.
While infections from group A strep bacteria are generally mild or moderate and are easily treatable, sometimes toxins made by the bacteria destroy the tissue they infect, causing tissue to die.
The most common way of getting necrotizing fasciitis is when the bacteria enter the body through a break in the skin from a cut, scrape, burn, insect bite, or puncture wound. Most people who get necrotizing fasciitis have other health problems that may lower their body’s ability to fight infection, such as diabetes, kidney disease, cancer, or other chronic health conditions that weaken the body’s immune system.
In cases of necrotizing fasciitis, bacteria spread rapidly once they enter the body and infect flat layers of the fascia (connective bands of tissue that surround muscles, nerves, fat, and blood vessels) and damage the tissues next to the fascia. Symptoms often start within hours after an injury and may include pain or soreness similar to that of a “pulled muscle.” The skin may be warm with red or purplish areas of swelling that spread rapidly. There may be ulcers, blisters, or black spots on the skin. Patients often describe their pain as severe and way out of proportion to how the painful area looks when examined by a doctor. Fever, chills, fatigue, or vomiting may follow the initial wound or soreness.
The first line of treatment is strong intravenous antibiotics. However, the antibiotics may not reach all of the infected and decaying areas, which is why the rapid surgical removal of dead tissue (in addition to the antibiotics) may be critical to stopping the infection.
If you developed necrotizing fasciitis that was improperly diagnosed and/or treated, your resulting injuries may be due to medical malpractice. You should promptly contact a local medical malpractice attorney in your state who may investigate your medical negligence claim for you and represent you in a medical malpractice claim, if appropriate.
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