Patient Receives $9.8 Million Malpractice Verdict In Heart Valve Lawsuit

By Adam Pick on October 14, 2008

I stress A LOT of things for patients to “watch out for” as they prepare for heart valve surgery. One of the most critical, potential pitfalls in this complex process is poor surgeon selection. As we all know, there is risk in any type of surgery. But, finding the right cardiac surgeon (with extensive experience) can minimize that risk.

It’s a sad fact… I receive emails from caregivers whose loved ones did not make it through surgery. Those are the toughest emails to read. The sadness and anger is overwhelming. Even with all the good happening in the heart valve community, mistakes are made.

 

Heart Valve Surgery Lawsuit

 

On that point, I just read an unfortunate story about Latricia Satterwhile, a mitral valve surgery patient. I am posting this story to emphasize the need for patients and caregivers to actively research their medical staff and facility. Here is Latricia’s story from the Herald-Leader newspaper in Lexington, Kentucky:

A $9.8 million civil verdict was returned in a lawsuit filed by a Lexington hairdresser who became paraplegic after a routine heart surgery.

A Fayette Circuit Court jury assigned 31 percent of fault — or $3,057,894 — to the surgeon, Dr. Michael Sekela of Surgical Associates of Lexington. The verdicts against the other defendants, Fresenius Medical Care and Central Kentucky Anesthesia, are moot because they had already settled with the patient and did not participate in the trial, said Sekela’s attorney, Rich Schiller of Louisville.

A review of the Kentucky Trial Court Review indicates that Wednesday’s verdict could be the largest medical malpractice verdict to ever come out of Fayette County. The plaintiff, Latricia Satterwhite, had surgery on her mitral valve in her heart on April 19, 2006. The surgery took less than an hour and was successful.

But, according to medical experts who testified on her behalf, the surgeon misplaced the cannula, or hose, for a machine that pumps blood during the heart surgery. The misplacement caused too much blood and oxygen to be pumped to her right hand and too little to her brain and thoracic spinal cord, the experts testified.

Satterwhite, who worked at the Great Clips on East High Street, can no longer walk. She also suffered mild to moderate brain damage, said her attorney, James Bolus of Louisville.

“No one wins here,” Bolus said. “The surgeon has to live with the fact this occurred. Unfortunately, he wanted to go trial.” Schiller said Sekela disputes that the cannula was misplaced or that he caused her paralysis. Schiller said that they are considering an appeal. “Its always unhappy when you have a verdict like this,” Schiller said. “We are in shock and disbelief that it happened.”

Satterwhite was awarded $455,229 in past medical experiences and $4,426,408 for future medical bills. She was awarded $482,538 in lost wages and $4.5 million for pain and suffering. The total verdict was $9.8 million.

Doctor Sekela was found at fault by a 10-2 vote of the jury. The anesthesiologist shared 23 percent of the fault, and the perfusionist, the person who operates the heart-lung machine was responsible for 41 percent of fault, the jury found.

In light of Latricia’s story, please take the time to find the right surgeon for you. In my opinion, no amount of money can remedy Latricia’s unfortunate situation.

Keep on tickin!
Adam


Written by Adam Pick
- Patient & Website Founder

Adam Pick is a heart valve patient and author of The Patient's Guide To Heart Valve Surgery. In 2006, Adam founded HeartValveSurgery.com to educate and empower patients. This award-winning website has helped over 10 million people fight heart valve disease. Adam has been featured by the American Heart Association and Medical News Today.

Adam Pick is a heart valve patient and author of The Patient's Guide To Heart Valve Surgery. In 2006, Adam founded HeartValveSurgery.com to educate and empower patients. This award-winning website has helped over 10 million people fight heart valve disease. Adam has been featured by the American Heart Association and Medical News Today.


Karen says on October 15th, 2008 at 4:49 pm

Hello Adam.
Congratulations to you and your wife! A new baby brings joy.
I had a hard time with my mitral valve repair. I had to have an emergency surgery again within 20 hours of the first one. That makes 2 surgeries within 24 hours. I was in ICU for a week fighting for my life everyday because something else went wrong, (one day the blood sugar was over 200-had to have an insulin shot; one day the lungs not working and almost had to be put on the dreaded pipe down the throat thing again; one day my blood count went below 2% and rushed to nuclear med. for a look inside and all this time had numberous doctors concerned. Thank God for my daughter. She helped me concentrate on slowly breathing and I am now 11 long weeks post-surgery and still fighting every day to become better. I think we all think that our Cadiologist would pick a qualified surgeon for us and I did not research further because I did not have the money to pay for the search results I found online about my doctors. I felt that God picked these men to help me in this matter. I am still in pain, but I am not taking any prescription medicines at this time. I read your blog on how well everyone is doing and I get depressed and feel that something is wrong with me. I am going to make myself go back to work and try to get my mind off my pains. Thanks for having this blog. It helps us all feel like we are not alone.



Judy says on August 24th, 2011 at 6:27 pm

Hi everyone. I am 5 weeks out from a minimally invasive mitral valve repair. I am not feeling as well as I thought I would & would appreciate some input from others. I am very weak & tired, have trouble taking a deep breath and when I do, it hurts beneath my right breast. Does anyone have any experience to share with me?
Thanks



cindy says on October 11th, 2011 at 2:57 pm

Judy
I am 7 weeks post op from a mitral valve repair. I have been in pain the whole time. My pain is more in the chest area and down my breast. The cardiologist says it is the way i was positioned during surgery, but 7 weeks has gone by. Now my pain is more skin pain, which they are calling over active nerve endings. I have to hold my shirts away from my chest, cannot wear a seat belt and in constant pain and discomfort. Today i went to the drs pcp and now have to return to a pain clinic. Just dealt with them for my right leg, which is a seperate issue, but now they are thinking this all goes together and want to call it over active nerve ending and pcp told me there are alot of people that have to live with chronic pain. I am so frustrated. Feel your pain judy so if you can respond please do so.



Judy says on October 11th, 2011 at 4:12 pm

Hi Cindy: I am sorry that you are having such a hard time. The doctors always seem to have an explanation for the things that have gone wrong. My heart surgeon has a reputation for being among the best and yet my echo’s indicate that the surgery was not successful. My Mitral Valve is improved but not completely, so I guess I will have to have another surgery if I live long enough. Join me in prayer for both of us, because it seems that is all that will help. Good luck, God bless.



Mark says on December 19th, 2011 at 10:52 pm

As I read the post that have been written here, I just have to say that through the years I have been under the care of a cardiologist, I have very little faith left. Although I do not have any mitral valve issues, I have and still do have issue with an aortic valve. I had my natural valve replaced in early 2006. At first I was told that it was very successful and I should never have another problem as long as kept up with the blood thinners and got checked out every 6 mos. After my first check up, I was told that the valve wasn’t sewn in deep enough, and I would have to go through the procedure again. I, of course chose a different surgeon, and a different hospital. The second surgery went well for the most part. No complications, but the valve had to be sewn in deeper, wich has an effect on the rythim. Now 5 years later, and after numerous cardiologist visits, echo’s, and ekg’e, I am told that I need to have the valve replaced again. It’s leaking around the suture area, and one flap is closed and will not open. If it is not possible to replace the valve a third time, I will have to have a heart pump. And eventually a heart replacement. Hoping for yet another valve replacement, but I am sure it will not last very long if it is successful at first. I looked into a lawsuit, but was told that because I didn’t die, I really have no recourse. I didn’t loose any abilities, so I am not entitled. I guess in todays day and age, medical people can use a body to learn and develop thier skills without recourse.



ELLEN says on September 23rd, 2012 at 6:53 pm

HI IVE HAD THREE HEART SURGERS THE KAST ONE FOUR MONTHS AGO THE PAIN IS THE WORST THING I CANT EVEN WERE A BRA WHEN WILL THIS PAIN GO AWAY



Debbie says on March 20th, 2013 at 4:07 pm

I have posted several times on this site. I am now 1 year post-op after having my second open heart surgery and replacement of my ascending aorta arch due to an aneurysm. I STILL have right hand numbness in 4 of my fingers (thumb, index, middle, and ring finger). The doctors kept telling me that it would return within a few months. They were wrong. The nerve damage is considered “severe” now & my right forearm is so thin. My fingers just keep getting tighter like a rubberband is in them. It has ruined my medical career, and has left me depressed. I was never informed before surgery that this could happen. My surgeons won’t even return my calls anymore because they state that its NOT THEIR FAULT. I’m not sure what to do now. I’m only 50 & my life has been turned upside down.


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