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Brother bled to death from central line medical error


On June 9, 2008, my brother, Kenneth Novak died due to the terrible mistake of two anesthesiologists at a hospital in Fort Lauderdale, FL. While central lines were being placed into his internal jugular vein to prepare for a liver transplant, the catheter/needle was advanced too far, perforating both the jugular and right subclavian artery. My brother bled to death. Although these doctors admit to making a terrible mistake, they are not being held accountable in any way. The hospital offered to pay my Mother $18,000.00, but only in exchange for her not to pursue complaints on the hospital or any of the physician’s involved. My mother refused to sign off her son’s life for $18,000.00 and completed the formal complaints to the Florida Department of Health. After each investigation on the physician’s involved, The Department of Health sent my mother back a letter simply stating that “there is no probable cause,” and thanking her for her attention to this matter. Thanking her for her attention to this matter? Oh my goodness, this was her son.

These doctors are covered under Florida statutes that prevent us from gaining any real information. My family is devastated…the Department of Health would not answer one question we had regarding my brother’s death because of this Florida law. What does a family do? No answers, no reasons for this tragedy. My mother is not suing; she wants accountability for her son’s death and does not want this to happen to anyone else.

One ironic point here is that I found that one of the anesthesiologists did not complete his 2 hours of continuing education on “How to Prevent Medical Errors.” He simply paid a $589.00 fee and that was it. Why wouldn’t these physicians receive further training or a root cause investigation on how/why this happened or how to prevent it from happening again? What happens when they do the same thing to the next patient? We realize there are risks in surgery, but there must be a way of properly inserting these lines without killing the patient. And, if there is a tragic loss of life, why is there no discipline whatsoever?

Update: I spoke with one of the doctors involved and he said he would be willing to sign a waiver of confidentiality so that my family can view the Medical Board’s investigative report. He will have to request the waiver from the Department of Health, so we’ll see if he follows through. When I spoke with him, this physician explained that this was an accident and that every person is built a little differently. He said they do this procedure the same for everyone. How can that be if everyone is built differently? Shouldn’t they do something to ensure they are placing these lines in the right spot? What happens to the next patient? Will he/she be lucky enough that they hit the right spot?

When I spoke with the legal counsel at the Department of Health regarding the investigative report, she told me that it would be just a general report and no major information in the Board’s decision will be revealed. So, we will probably never know how they came to the decision not to discipline. Looks like the families are still left out in the cold.

Written by Ginger of Monee, Illinois.