The University of Chicago Medicine has agreed to pay $17 million to a 19-year-old man for failing to run lab tests on him when he was a boy, which ultimately resulted in damage to his heart and brain — and disabilities he is still overcoming, his lawyer said.
Alexander Williams, of Harvey, was brought to the emergency room at University of Chicago Medical Center on Sept. 6, 2003, because he had a fever and seemed sick, according to a lawsuit filed in Circuit Court of Cook County.
“He’s just a walking, talking model of who’s at risk for [bacterial endocarditis, the condition he was later found to have],” his attorney Kevin G. Burke from Burke Wise Morrissey Kaveny said. “Even the mom said, ‘You know the reason I took him to the emergency room was he had it once before, and they said, ‘This is very serious, bring him in whenever he seems sick. The worst they can do is we can check him out and he’s fine.’ Unfortunately, [they] didn’t even run a lab test.’”
Bacterial endocarditis occurs when there is an infection of the lining of the heart and can sometimes be fatal. Those who are at higher risk for developing this condition are people who have a history of endocarditis, have had a congenital heart defect in the past or have an artificial heart valve, the American Heart Association said.
Williams fit those criteria. He had endocarditis in 1996, and he was born with a congenital heart defect that required him to get artificial implants in his heart, the lawsuit said.
But instead of undergoing a test for endocarditis, Williams was allegedly given some Motrin and was released after his fever went down and he said he was feeling “95 percent” better.
Two days later, Williams returned to the hospital with a fever and a heart rate that was abnormally fast. This time, a U. of C. doctor ordered lab tests to be done and had a cardiologist and surgeon see him. Williams was found to have a severe case of endocarditis.
Surgery was done to try to repair the damage to the heart, but “the area that was infected opened up and started pouring blood out of the heart. So he had a period where he wasn’t getting blood to his brain and had significant injury to his brain,” Burke said.
In a statement, U. of C. said it “cannot comment on details of the case due to patient privacy laws. The case was resolved so the patient can receive the support and medical care needed. By settling, the Medical Center is not admitting fault in the care or treatment of this person.”
Yet, court documents filed on behalf of the hospital had testimony from three doctors arguing that the hospital’s staff followed the standard of care and was not negligent.
Burke, meanwhile, had testimony from five doctors disputing that.
The temporary loss of blood to his brain left Williams with limited to no use of his left side of his body, no vision in his left eye and speech that is difficult to understand, Burke said. He also uses a wheelchair.
“Given where he started from, he’s made a remarkable process,” Burke said.
Williams’ mother declined to comment on the settlement.
In the United States, about 34,000 people were hospitalized with bacterial endocarditis in 2010, the most recent data provided by the America Heart Association said. The disease is becoming more common, particularly among older people. More than one-fourth of all cases happen in people older than 60, the 2009 Merck Manual Home Health Handbook noted.