Chicago Surgical Error Involving Cut Nerve Receives $2.35 Million Verdict – Smola v. Jeffrey M. Sheedy, D.O.

A Chicago medical malpractice lawsuit involving allegations of a botched surgery returned a verdict of $2,350,000 in Smola v. Jeffrey M. Sheedy, D.O., 05 L-4862 (IL Cook County). The plaintiff accused the defendant Dr. Sheedy of committing surgical errors, including severing his ulnar nerve during a tendon reattachment surgery, which resulted in Smola’s permanent complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS).

While at work as a maintenance mechanic for UPS, plaintiff James Smola tore his left distal biceps tendon. Smola was referred to Dr. Sheedy, an orthopedic surgeon, who recommended a tendon reattachment procedure that was performed at St. James Hospital – Olympia Fields and was the subject of the present Illinois medical malpractice lawsuit.

At the Chicago jury trial, the plaintiff alleged that Dr. Sheedy had violated the medical standard of care when he severed the plaintiff’s ulnar artery during the tendon reattachment procedure, which led to his subsequent median nerve damage and CRPS. Furthermore, plaintiff’s attorneys alleged that the surgical errors were in part due to Dr. Sheedy’s negligence in choosing not to properly protect the plaintiff’s vital arteries during the biceps tendon repair.

In response, the defendant doctor’s attorneys argued that the ulnar artery had in fact not been cut during the procedure and that the surgeon did not commit any surgical errors. To support its claims, the defendant argued that if the ulnar artery had been cut that there would have been major blood loss, which there was not. The defense contended that the ulnar artery was not in the surgical field where Dr. Sheedy was operating and that if it was in fact cut, it must have been cut by the vascular surgeon, and not Dr. Sheedy.

Also, the defendants claimed that several observers had found the plaintiff to have a strong ulnar pulse at his wrist after the surgery, another sign that is inconsistent with an ulnar artery transection. Likewise, the defense pointed to a vascular study done at Loyola University Medical Center, 16 months after the tendon repair surgery, which showed that the patient’s ulnar artery had normal flow patterns.

In order to help visualize the arm’s major arteries and to reduce bleeding, a tourniquet was placed high on Smola’s arm during the procedure. Once the surgical reattachment of the tendon was completed, Dr. Sheedy removed the tourniquet, at which point he noticed unexpected bleeding. The tourniquet was then reinflated in an effort to find the source of the blood loss, but Dr. Sheedy was unable to find any.
Dr. Sheedy removed the tourniquet for a second time; there was no longer any active bleeding, but likewise there were no palpable pulses at the plaintiff’s wrist. Based on this information, Dr. Sheedy believed that the arteries had gone into vasospasm, a condition where the blood vessels over-contract. He called for a vascular surgeon to come check on Smola’s blood flow.

The vascular surgeon performed a catheter thrombectomy, a procedure aimed at removing a blockage to minimize damage, and then an angiogram, which is an x-ray taken with injected dye to take pictures of blood flow. The vascular surgeon was able to restore blood flow to Mr. Smola’s hand, but then noticed that he had extensive arterial bleeding. She then performed an additional dissection and discovered that plaintiff’s ulnar artery had been cut. The vascular surgeon was unable to repair the artery, so instead tied it off.

As a result of the vascular injury, Mr. Smola suffered a period of ischemia, or restricted blood flow, which led to permanent median sensory nerve damage. His median nerve injury led to a development of complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS), once known as reflex sympathetic dystrophy, in his left arm. After undergoing extensive treatment for his CRPS it went into remission, but could possibly be exacerbated in the future.

After seven days of trial involving arguments over the degree of the surgical errors, the jury returned a verdict in favor of Mr. Smola in the amount of $2,350,000. The Illinois medical malpractice verdict included payments for medical bills and expenses, along with payments for past and future pain and suffering and past and future loss of normal life.

Kreisman Law Offices has been handling Illinois medical malpractice cases in and around Chicago for more than 35 years, including Orland Park, Oak Forest, Bolingbrook and River Forest.

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