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Emory to Pay $38.6M After Heart Transplant Goes Wrong

— December 12, 2023

Hospital is made to pay nearly $40M in medical malpractice case.

In a historic legal decision, a DeKalb County jury has mandated that Emory University Hospital pay an unprecedented $38.6 million to Barbra Brown, a grieving mother who tragically lost her 20-year-old son during a heart transplant procedure at the hospital in 2017. This monumental award stands as one of the highest figures ever recorded in a medical malpractice case against the prestigious healthcare institution, marking a watershed moment in the pursuit of justice for patients and their families.

The culmination of a protracted five-year legal battle, this verdict resonates beyond the courtroom, reflecting the profound consequences of alleged medical oversight. Barbra Brown, emotionally overwhelmed by the decision, articulated that this marked the first time in six years she felt a sense of closure for her son’s untimely demise. Lee Gutschenritter, Brown’s attorney, conveyed the gravity of the judgment, stating, “We’ve been told this is the largest verdict ever against Emory.”

The heart-wrenching saga began with the passing of Brown’s son, Trevon, during a heart transplant at Emory in 2017. The lawsuit contends that the medical team overlooked a crucial chest CT scan, a procedure that could have been pivotal in identifying potential complications such as scar tissue or particles. In the absence of this critical diagnostic step, Trevon, already grappling with the challenges of congestive heart failure and relying on a medical heart pump, faced unforeseen and intensified complications during the operation.

Emory to Pay $38.6M After Heart Transplant Goes Wrong
Photo by Sora Shimazaki from Pexels

The omission of the chest CT scan, a standard practice in pre-operative evaluations, meant that the medical team was unaware of a critical structure adhered to the back of Trevon’s chest. This oversight further complicated an already intricate medical scenario, contributing to the loss of two-thirds of Trevon’s blood during the transplant procedure. Consequently, the young man’s health rapidly deteriorated, necessitating prolonged life support measures that extended for six harrowing weeks until he tragically passed away on Christmas Day. The profound ramifications of the medical oversight underscore the importance of meticulous pre-operative protocols and the devastating impact such lapses can have on patients and their families.

The legal proceedings unveiled a critical piece of the puzzle—Trevon had been diagnosed with a dormant virus in 2016 that had silently attacked and destroyed his heart. The lawsuit asserts that the failure to conduct a pre-operative chest CT scan prevented the identification of a critical structure adhered to the back of Trevon’s chest, exacerbating the already complex medical situation.

To bolster their case, Brown’s legal team enlisted medical experts from Harvard University, who meticulously reviewed the evidence. Their conclusion was unequivocal: had a chest CT scan been performed, Trevon might still be alive today. Instead, he left the operating room on life support, clinging to life for six agonizing weeks until he ultimately passed away on Christmas Day.

Emory’s defense throughout the trial maintained that using a chest CT was not a standard practice for the hospital. In response to Channel 2 investigative reporter Ashli Lincoln’s outreach, Emory issued a statement expressing condolences to the family and emphasizing their commitment to providing high-quality, compassionate care.

Beyond the immense financial award, this landmark verdict bears broader significance. It not only acknowledges the devastating consequences of alleged negligence in a medical setting but also sets a consequential precedent for medical malpractice cases. The substantial financial compensation reflects the jury’s recognition of the profound impact the alleged oversight had on Trevon’s life and the enduring grief experienced by his family.


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