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What To Do About Heart Surgery Malpractice

Thousands of heart surgeries are performed every day in the United States. Many of the patients come out of surgery successfully, with no major complications, and can go back to leading a normal life. However, like any invasive surgery, heart surgery can be complicated. If the doctor or surgeon makes a mistake during surgery, it can cause serious damage or death. 

Cardiologists and cardiac surgeons are held to a high standard of care. When a doctor deviates from the standard of care and causes an injury, the doctor may have committed medical malpractice. A medical malpractice lawsuit after a heart surgery error can help the victim recover medical expenses, lost income, and compensate for pain and suffering. For information about a heart surgery medical malpractice claim, contact an experienced medical malpractice law firm about your case.

Common Types of Heart Surgery

The heart and cardiovascular system provide oxygenated blood to organs throughout the body. When the heart is not working properly, it can cause weakness, pain, organ damage, and death. Heart procedures and surgeries can repair heart problems and increase heart function. Common heart surgeries include: 

  • Angioplasty
  • Laser angioplasty
  • Artificial heart valve surgery 
  • Atherectomy
  • Bypass surgery 
  • Cardiomyoplasty
  • Heart transplant
  • Minimally invasive heart surgery
  • Radiofrequency ablation
  • Stent replacement
  • Transmyocardial revascularization (TMR)

Angioplasty and Stents

Angioplasty is also known as percutaneous coronary interventions (PCI), balloon angioplasty, and coronary artery balloon dilation. This procedure opens up blocked areas of reduced blood flow. The procedure often involves putting a stent in the artery to keep the flow area open and reduce the risk of further blockage. This is similar to atherectomy.

Artificial Heart Valve Surgery 

Also known as heart valve replacement surgery, this replaces the body’s heart valve with an artificial valve, to help the heart function normally.

Bypass Surgery 

Also known as coronary artery bypass graft (CABG), the procedure uses arteries or veins from other parts of the body and grafts them to supply blood flow around clogged arteries. Patients may undergo a single, double, triple, or quadruple, or more bypass. 

Heart Transplant

When a heart is beyond repair, a heart transplant uses a heart from an organ donor to replace the diseased heart. The first successful heart transplant was conducted in 1967. Now, there are about 2,000 heart transplants each year in the U.S.

Minimally Invasive Heart Surgery

Also known as limited access coronary artery surgery, this procedure uses small incisions to attach veins or arteries to the heart to bypass clogged arteries. 

Radiofrequency Ablation

Ablation uses a catheter and an electrode to stimulate the abnormal rhythm in the heart, which can be used to treat arrhythmias.

What Can Go Wrong During Heart Surgery

Even when routine heart surgery is performed, things can go wrong before, during, and after surgery that increase the risk of injury to the patient. With most heart surgery procedures, the patient is under anesthesia and is not aware of what is happening during surgery. It may take weeks or months before the patient realizes something went wrong. Some of the things that can go wrong during heart surgery include:  

Foreign Object Left Behind

Following proper surgical procedures involves making sure that no foreign objects are accidentally left behind in the patient. This is an event that is never supposed to happen but happens too often in surgery. According to one study, surgical instruments are left inside patients at the rate of up to once for every 1,000 abdominal surgeries. Retained foreign objects in heart surgery may include: 

  • Sponges
  • Needles
  • Scalpels
  • Retractors

These foreign objects can be identified by the body as something that is not supposed to be there, causing the body to react to the infection. Unfortunately for the patient, it may take months or years before the foreign object is identified. Infection caused by unknown foreign objects can spread to vital organs, and even present the risk of fatal infection. 

Anesthesia Errors

Anesthesia is common in many types of surgery, including cosmetic surgery, dental procedures, and heart surgery. A patient is administered drugs and/or gas, to “put the patient under.” These drugs can be powerful, administering too much of one drug may cause the patient to go into cardiac arrest. This is why patients are supposed to be closely monitored by anesthesiologists during and after surgical procedures. Other anesthesia complications include: 

  • Intubation errors
  • Communication errors
  • Failure to monitor the patient’s vital signs
  • Failure to review the patient’s medical history
  • Leaving patients unattended during and after surgery

Surgical Infection After Heart Surgery

Heart surgery often involves opening up the body to outside instruments, which can result in infection from bacteria, viruses, or fungus. Surgical infections can come from healthcare workers who do not properly clean and sanitize medical equipment. Infections that are transmitted during a stay in a healthcare facility are sometimes known as hospital-acquired infections (HAIs). 

Hospitals and clinics are supposed to have strict procedures to make sure surgical tools are sterilized before they can be used on a patient. Even a little bit of bacteria on a doctor’s hands, gloves, gown, scalpel, clamp, or needle is enough to introduce a dangerous infection into the patient’s body. The infection may take days or weeks to develop and spread. If the infection is not detected and treated quickly, it can cause permanent tissue damage, ischemic shock, or death.

Defective Medical Device

There are a lot of medical devices that can help patients recover heart function, including artificial heart valves, stents, and pacemakers. Unfortunately, some of these devices are defective, which can cause heart problems, infection, or heart failure. It may be months or years before a patient learns the medical device in their body is defective. 

Medical device defects generally involve a manufacturing defect or design defect. A design defect means there is a problem with how the product is designed, even when it is used as intended. A manufacturing defect means there is a problem with the device in the way it was manufactured. For example, if a heart valve was produced in an unsterile environment, it could introduce bacteria and infection into the patient when implanted. 

In 2016, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a warning to patients and healthcare providers about the risk of infection with a medical device used during open-heart surgery. The warning concerned a specific heater-cooler device that is used during surgery, that may have been contaminated during manufacturing. Patients should seek medical care if they experience symptoms associated with infection, including muscle aches, fatigue, or unexplained fever.

Wrong Patient Surgery

It may seem impossible that a hospital could make such an obvious mistake as mixing up patients. Unfortunately, it happens more than you might expect. Wrong-patient errors are known as “never events,” because they are never supposed to happen when doctors and hospitals are following the standards of care. According to the Joint Commission, a wrong-site surgery occurs 40 times every week in the U.S. 

This could mean that a patient goes in for a heart bypass and the hospital mixes up the patients, performing a heart transplant on a patient that was supposed to have their appendix removed and taking out the appendix of the patient with a heart blockage. This means both patients underwent unnecessary surgical procedures. To make it worse, the patients may have to recover and undergo the correct surgery, leaving their initial condition to get worse until the mistake is corrected. 

One way to help reduce the risk of wrong-site surgeries is to use verifications and checklists in the operating room. This helps ensure the correct procedure is performed on the correct person, at the correct site. If you were the victim of a wrong-patient surgery, talk to an experienced medical malpractice lawyer for help. 

Informed Consent Malpractice and Heart Surgery

In order to perform heart surgery, the doctor generally requires informed consent of the patient.  Informed consent means that the patient understands the risks associated with the surgery, benefits, and alternatives. Without informed consent, the patient cannot meaningfully agree to treatment. Proper informed consent requires communicating: 

  • Risks of the procedure
  • Benefits of treatment
  • Possible side effects and complications
  • Reasonable alternatives
  • Consequences of declining the procedure

Cardiac Surgeons and Cardiologists

Not just any doctors perform heart surgery. There are several types of heart doctors that may be involved in a heart surgery. These doctors go through college and medical school. In addition, most cardiac doctors have to go through post-graduate training, residency, testing, clinical testing, examinations, and state licensing. 

Heart doctors may have a variety of specializations or subspecialty certificates. This includes: 

  • Advanced Heart Failure and Transplant Cardiology
  • Cardiovascular Disease
  • Interventional Cardiology
  • Pediatric Cardiology
  • Thoracic and Cardiac Surgery
  • Congenital Cardiac Surgery
  • Adult Cardiac Anesthesiology
  • Clinical Cardiac Electrophysiology
  • Adult Congenital Heart Disease

Thoracic Surgery

According to the American Board of Thoracic Surgery in Chicago, Illinois, “Thoracic surgery encompasses the operative, perioperative, and surgical critical care of patients with acquired and congenital pathologic conditions within the chest.” 

Thoracic surgeons treat diseased or injured organs in the chest, including the heart, pericardium, coronary arteries, valves, and myocardium. Some of the diseases treated by a thoracic surgeon include

  • Heart lesions
  • Coronary artery disease and valve problems
  • Chest trauma
  • Heart and lung transplants

Standard of Care of Heart Doctors

In a medical malpractice lawsuit, the injury victim generally needs to show the doctor breached the standard of care. To help the jury understand the standard of care of a cardiologist or cardiac surgeon, your attorney will likely use a medical expert to provide an expert report and give expert testimony. Experts in a heart surgery case may include surgeons or cardiologists with experience and training, who understand the standards of care and can explain how your doctor deviated from the standard of care in causing the injury. 

Filing a Heart Surgery Malpractice Lawsuit

Filing a heart surgery malpractice lawsuit begins with filing a complaint in civil court. However, there may be a lot of work done before the lawsuit is filed. After contacting a medical malpractice attorney, your attorney will review your case and investigate your claim. This may require reviewing your medical records and having an expert look at your case. 

It is important to contact an attorney as soon as possible. The statute of limitations in your state will limit the amount of time you have to file a claim. If you file even one day too late, your case can be dismissed. 

Chicago Malpractice Time Limits

In Illinois, the statute of limitations for most medical malpractice claims is 2years. However, the time limit may not begin to run until the injury victim knows about or reasonably should have known about the injury. However, in no event can a claim be brought more than 4 years after the date of the medical error. There may be more time for minors but you should not rely on exceptions or extensions because a mistake can dismiss your case. Talk to your attorney as soon as you can. 

Baltimore Medical Error Time Limits

The statute of limitations for medical malpractice in Maryland is generally the lesser of: 

  • 3 years from the date of discovery, or
  • 5 years from the date of injury.

Philadelphia Heart Surgery Malpractice Time Limits

In Pennsylvania, the statute of limitations for medical malpractice is 2 years from the date of the injury. However, if the injury victim is a minor or when the injury was discovered later, the injury victim may have more time to file their claim.

Damages in a Heart Surgery Malpractice Claim

Damages in a medical malpractice claim include the losses associated with the medical error. Compensatory damages are supposed to put the victim into a similar position they would be if the injury had never occurred. It may be impossible to erase the damage caused by heart surgery errors but an award for damages may be the best option. 

Damages in a medical malpractice case can include economic damages, like lost income, medical bills, and the costs of future medical needs. Non-economic damages in a malpractice claim may include pain and suffering, loss of support, and loss of enjoyment in life. If you want to know how much your heart surgery case may be worth, talk to an experienced lawyer about the potential damages. 

Contact experienced trial attorneys who can look at your case, answer your questions, and help you understand your legal options to file a claim against a negligent doctor. Contact Gilman & Bedigian online or at 800-529-6162 for a free consultation.

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