Sommers Schwartz attorney Matthew Turner obtained a confidential $1,087,500 medical malpractice settlement for a woman who underwent an unnecessary and negligently performed total thyroidectomy, resulting in lifelong pain, suffering, and disfigurement.
The plaintiff went to see the defendant surgeon for the first time in April 2014 under the belief that having her thyroid removed would help her lose weight. Although the medical record reflects that she experienced weight gain, constipation, alopecia, fatigue, and lethargy, she had no symptoms consistent with hyperthyroidism. The plaintiff had previously received thyroid suppression therapy, which the defendant believed to be unsuccessful due to an insufficiently low dose, and he diagnosed her with hypothyroidism.
An ultrasound of the plaintiff’s neck, soft tissue, thyroid two weeks later showed no changes in the thyroid’s appearance from the studies done years prior– the study was unremarkable. During a physical exam at a return the following month, the defendant noted “no abnormalities, masses or tenderness on palpation” and the thyroid was noted to be “normal size without tenderness, nodules or masses,” but despite all of his findings indicating the patient’s thyroid was stable, the defendant advised the plaintiff to proceed with a thyroidectomy.
When the procedure was performed a few weeks later, the defendant surgeon ordered NIMS monitoring as part of the procedure. NIMS monitoring involves the use of a special endotracheal tube with sensors to allow the surgeon to stimulate the recurrent laryngeal nerves which results in movement of the vocal cords. This allows the surgeon to identify and protect the nerves. When both the right and left recurrent laryngeal nerves are injured it impacts the ability of the vocal cords to open and close and results in compromise to the patient’s airway.
The defendant anesthesiologist determined that the patient was a Mallampati II (the airway was pretty good) and was able to visualize the plaintiff’s vocal cords prior to intubation with a glidescope and determined that it was safe to put the patient to sleep prior to intubation. Unfortunately, the defendant anesthesiologist gave a grossly inadequate dose of the wrong type of muscle relaxant and it took multiple attempts to intubate the patient with the NIMS tube in the proper location. The multiple attempts at intubation caused trauma to the airway and swelling of the vocal cords. The trauma and swelling resulted in the Nerve Integrity Monitor (NIM) tube not being able to monitor the recurrent laryngeal nerves. After she was finally intubated successfully, the defendant surgeon failed to identify and protect the left and right recurrent laryngeal nerves, and injured both nerves. The plaintiff was later rushed back to surgery for placement of a tracheostomy tube which she now needs permanently to protect her airway.
The lawsuit claimed that the defendant surgeon was professionally negligent in failing to treat the plaintiff’s symptoms with medication before proceeding with a medically unnecessary total thyroidectomy. Further, the surgeon negligently performed the thyroidectomy by failing to properly identify and protect the plaintiff’s left and right recurrent laryngeal nerves, instead injuring both nerves. The suit also alleged that the defendant anesthesiologist failure to properly assess the patient pre-operatively and administer the appropriate dose of a de-polarizing muscle relaxant which would have led to an easy and atraumatic intubation. Instead, multiple attempts at intubation caused trauma to the plaintiff’s airway and significant swelling which resulted in the NIM monitoring system not being able to pick up movement of the vocal cords, and in turn allowing for injury to her recurrent laryngeal nerves.
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