Septic Shock: Two Patient Deaths, Two Lawsuits
James P. Keane, 70 at the time of his death, had been a deputy county executive with a long career in politics. Ellen Feeney, 61, also deceased, was known for helping the disabled. James and Ellen passed within 45 hours of each other and separate lawsuits for each patient with similar claims have been filed on their behalf.
Both were patients at South Buffalo Mercy Hospital who underwent surgery for perforated bowels and ultimately died from sepsis shock. The filings claim they would be alive if physicians at Mercy had recognized the signs of the deadly infection, which occurs when toxins from a punctured bowel leak into the rest of the body, and had treated it promptly.
Keane’s widow, Margaret, filed her lawsuit against Mercy and its parent company, Catholic Health, along with doctors Kenneth H Eckhert III and Michael P. Rade, and Surgical Associates of WNY. Her brother-in-law, attorney James J. Kelleher, has joined the case alongside attorney Donald P. Chiari. Chiari is representing both families. The Feeney family is suing doctors Carlos Santos and OB/GYN Associates.
Chiari describes the failures in the Keane case as “egregious,” and claims there is documented deviations from proper procedures and protocols. “According to the medical records in our possession, the hospital on at least five occasions failed to properly assess obvious signs of infection and violated its own sepsis protocols by not notifying a physician,” he said. The attorneys also noted Keane’s death certificate originally listed “natural” causes, but was subsequently changed to “accidental.”
“Margaret and the family were shocked to learn that Jim’s death was unnecessary and absolutely preventable, and was not due to ‘natural causes’ as was initially indicated on his death certificate,” Kelleher said. “They are both sad and angry that Jim was taken from them before his time as a direct result of the terrible medical care he received at Mercy Hospital.”
JoAnn Cavanaugh, Catholic Health spokeswoman, said the hospital “is committed to providing the highest quality patient care and has an active Quality and Patient Safety Department that continually reviews policies and procedures to ensure the highest level of patient safety.” Mercy’s profile on Catholic Health’s website indicates “we meet the highest quality and safety standards in our field.” JoAnn added, “In general, it should be noted that no two surgical cases are alike, and all surgeries involve an element of risk, regardless of precautions and safety measures. Situations like these are difficult for everyone involved, especially for family members, to whom we extend our deepest sympathies.”
Keane entered Mercy Hospital on December 16. The following day, he was in pain with a pulse rate of 106 per minute (80 is normal) and a temperature of 100.6 degrees. Lab reports showed an elevated white blood cell count while the patient’s abdomen became distended. A physician should have been notified immediately, according to hospital protocol. However, Chiari said, “The hospital staff did not notify a physician about these symptoms.” Two days later, Keane had no fever but his abdomen remained distended and his white blood cell count was still higher than normal. The conditions persisted into the following day. “He just never really makes it after that,” Chiari said.
Feeney entered Mercy for outpatient surgery on December 14, and that surgeon noted no complications, so she was discharged at 2:30 p.m. the same day. Early the next morning, however, Feeney was in pain and vomiting. She returned to Mercy at 7:40 p.m. with a blood pressure of 80/40. Feeney suffered a “code” in the emergency room and a tube was inserted into her trachea. Antibiotics were not administered until 11:01 p.m., Chiari said, “despite obvious signs of sepsis and sepsis shock.”
At that time, Feeney underwent emergency surgery and a hole was discovered in the small bowel, which was leaking contamination. In critical condition, she was transferred to the intensive care unit with a diagnosis of septic shock. “Comfort measures” were initiated on December 17 and she died at 10:49 p.m. due to “severe sepsis with multi-organ failure.”
Chiari charges Santos was “negligent, reckless and careless” in his failure to make an adequate evaluation of his patient. Similar allegations were filed against OB/GYN Associates and the hospital. “The staff within Mercy Hospital Emergency Department failed to timely diagnose sepsis and/or sepsis shock,” according to the lawsuit.
Chiari asks for a “substantial sum of money” in both suits to compensate the families.