Don’t Let This Happen to Your Family: Failure to Diagnose

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Doctor’s Failure to Diagnose Leaves Man Dead at Bottom of Swimming Pool

A 78-year-old man who wore a pacemaker was found dead at the bottom of a swimming pool, the victim of a fatal cardiac arrhythmia. Ten days earlier, he consulted a cardiologist for chest pains, but was sent home, without tests, treatment, or being cautioned against exercise.

The man sought the services of the cardiologist after experiencing a pressure-like sensation across his chest when he rode his bicycle or walked at a rapid pace. The cardiologist did not take an adequate medical history and did not perform an adequate examination. He failed to diagnose the patient¹s unstable angina, even though he was informed that the man had experienced the onset of chest pressure while exercising. The cardiologist did not treat the patient with nitroglycerin and/or anti-ischemic medications such as beta blockers, calcium channel blockers, or statins; he did not order a stress test within 72 hours; and he did not instruct the patient to stop exercising until diagnostic test results were known. In short, the cardiologist failed in all respects to assess the patient¹s risk of a serious or lethal outcome.

After only a cursory examination, the cardiologist scheduled diagnostic testing for two weeks later to rule out coronary artery disease. Despite the fact that he was informed that the patient had experienced the onset of chest pressure with exercise, the cardiologist did not advise the patient to forego exercising until diagnostic testing results were known. The patient did not live long enough to undergo the tests. Ten days later, he was found dead at the bottom of a swimming pool, the victim of a fatal cardiac arrhythmia.

The man’s widow sued the cardiologist for wrongful death and medical malpractice, alleging that the doctor fell below the standard of care by failing to diagnose her husband’s coronary artery disease in a timely manner and failing to treat his condition properly. Another cardiologist was prepared to testify as an expert witness for the plaintiff that it was his opinion that, to a reasonable degree of medical probability, the man had been suffering from unstable angina and symptoms caused by coronary artery disease when he first sought the defendant cardiologist’s services; that a stress test would have been positive and would have shown ischemia in the distribution of the left anterior descending coronary artery; that an angiography would have shown that coronary artery disease was the cause of his symptoms; and that he had a severe area of narrowing in the left anterior descending coronary artery. The expert witness was prepared to testify, further, that it was his opinion that the man would have been an excellent candidate for angioplasty and stenting or bypass surgery, and that the defendant cardiologist had placed him at risk of serious injury and sudden death when he permitted him to continue to exercise, particularly without treating his condition. It was the expert¹s opinion that the man would not have died, had defendant diagnosed and properly treated his condition, and would have lived beyond his normal life expectancy.

The case was settled before trial, with a covenant not to disclose the terms of the settlement agreement.

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