Medical Malpractice and Personal Injury Law Blog

Paramedics Intubate Patient's Esophagus Instead of Airway

Posted by Briggs Bedigian | Jul 27, 2016 | 0 Comments

When the paramedics arrive on the scene of an accident with a patient who is not breathing, one of the first priorities is to get oxygen going to the patient. This often involves an endotracheal intubation. During an endotracheal intubation, a plastic tube is inserted into the individual's trachea, or windpipe. This helps to maintain an open airway, preventing the patient from brain damage or death due to hypoxia. However, when medics are not careful, they can misplace the tube, putting it into the esophagus, leading to injury and possible death.

An 18-year-old freshman nursing major in Texas was driving her pickup when she lost control and crashed. A helicopter medevac crew arrived to transport the young woman to the hospital. While in transit, the medics decided to intubate the patient. However, instead of putting the tube into her trachea, it was inserted into her esophagus, filling her stomach with oxygen instead of her lungs. The young woman later died.

After an investigation into the case, her parents filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the medevac company. They allege the lack of oxygen combined with the sedatives, suffocated the 18-year-old. When the helicopter arrived at the hospital, she was in full cardiac arrest. Resuscitation efforts restored her heartbeat; however, doctors determined she had suffered irreversible brain damage. She was then taken off life support.

Andrew Hughes, a 13-year-old boy in Carteret County, North Carolina, was out skateboarding with some friends. He accidentally fell off his board, hitting his head. Emergency personnel were called, and he was transported by ambulance to the hospital. In the hospital, he was alert and speaking to his parents. The hospital then decided to transfer him to another medical center.

During the transfer, the hospital decided to put a breathing tube down the boy's throat. According to the parents, the child was not properly sedated, and woke up, pulling the tube out of his throat. When he was re-intubated, the tube was put into his esophagus instead of his trachea. The boy went without oxygen for more than a half an hour before the ER doctor immediately recognized the tube was in the wrong place. However, it was too late. The boy showed no brain activity and life support was withdrawn.

In their complaint, the parents allege the medical staff failed to properly re-intubate their son, failed to recognize the improper endotracheal intubation, tried to falsify records to cover-up the mistakes, all of which contributed to the child's untimely death. The family and hospital reached an undisclosed settlement in the case.

In Chicago, a man lost his fiancee after an anesthesiologist allegedly inserted a breathing tube down her esophagus instead of her trachea. The man filed a lawsuit against the doctors and hospital alleging negligence, medical malpractice, and wrongful death. According to the complaint, the doctor failed to detect the esophageal intubation, and failed to check the young woman's airway before and during the operation. As a result, the patient suffered permanent brain injury, and died as a result, leaving behind her fiance and two young children.

If you or a loved one has been injured by a medical mistake made during emergency transport, you should talk to an attorney who will fight to get you justice. The Gilman & Bedigian team of experienced attorneys is fully equipped to handle your medical malpractice claim. Our staff includes a physician and attorneys with decades of malpractice litigation experience. We will focus on getting you compensation for your injuries, so you can focus on healing and moving forward with your life.

About the Author

Briggs Bedigian

H. Briggs Bedigian (“Briggs”) is a founding partner of Gilman & Bedigian, LLC.  Prior to forming Gilman & Bedigian, LLC, Briggs was a partner at Wais, Vogelstein and Bedigian, LLC, where he was the head of the firm's litigation practice.  Briggs' legal practice is focused on representing clients involved in medical malpractice and catastrophic personal injury cases. 

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