Cook County Spinal Surgery Results in Permanent Quadriplegia – $18.75 Million Settlement Reached in Contreras v. Thorek Memorial Hospital

A large settlement was reached in a Cook County surgical error lawsuit involving a corrective spinal surgery. The medical malpractice arose as a result of improper monitoring during the patient’s post-operative care and poor communication between the nursing and medical staffs. A settlement of $18.75 million was reached in Francisco Contreras and Sandra Contreras v. Thorek Memorial Hospital, et al., No. 07 L 7771.

The injured party, Francisco Contreras, required a spinal surgery as a result of a work injury he’d sustained about a year before. While working at a Chicago Walgreens store, the 55 year-old injured his neck while removing a printer from a shelf. In an attempt to cure the persistent neck pain that continued to radiated down Contreras left arm, his doctors recommended he undergo cervical disc surgery.

Mr. Contreras presented to Thorek Memorial Hospital for that cervical disc surgery and hopefully cure the pain he’d been experiencing since his work injury. By all accounts the surgery itself went very well and the operative notes indicated that Contreras was able to move both his arms and legs. However, these positive signs did not continue – just forty-five minutes later the medical records indicated that Contreras’s motor functions were deteriorating.

While Contreras was in the post-operative room he was noted to have problems moving his lower extremities, including his legs, feet, and toes. His condition continued to deteriorate for the next six to seven hours until he was no longer able to move either of his arms. It was at this point that the hospital staff discovered that Mr. Contreras had a blood clot pressing down on his spinal cord. The blood clot was compressing the spinal cord and gradually causing damage to the spinal cord.

As soon as the medical staff discovered Mr. Contreras’s spinal cord compression, they rushed him to surgery to attempt to relieve the pressure. However, while the surgeons were able to remove the offending blood clot, the surgery came too late for Mr. Contreras. The blood clot had already caused permanent spinal damage, leaving Mr. Contreras a permanent quadriplegic.

The plaintiff filed a medical malpractice lawsuit against Thorek Memorial Hospital and its nursing staff regarding claims of negligent monitoring during their post-operative care. Specifically, Contreras contended that his quadriplegia could have been prevented if the neurosurgeons had recognized and treated his spinal injury earlier. Under the plaintiff’s theory, if the surgeons had relieved the pressure on his spinal cord at an earlier time, then he not only would not have lost function in all of his limbs, but would in fact be a fully-functioning man.

A key component of the plaintiff’s medical malpractice case involved allegations that even though two different nurses handling Mr. Contreras’s post-operative care recorded that he could not move his legs following the surgery, neither nurse relayed this information to the anesthesiologist. Because the anesthesiologist was not aware of Mr. Contreras’s neurological deficiencies, he authorized the patient’s transfer from the post-operative unit to the ICU. While in the ICU, the nurse handling Mr. Contreras’s care also noted that he was unable to move his legs; however, this nurse did also failed to notify any of Mr. Contreras’s physicians because he was under the impression that Mr. Contreras could not move his legs when he was admitted to the hospital.

The plaintiff’s case attempted to prove that there were several points where the medical staff should have recognized Mr. Contreras’s deteriorating neurological condition and taken action to correct it. However, the nursing malpractice involving the communication breakdown between the medical and nursing staff resulted in a long delay in treatment, which led to Mr. Contrera’s permanent quadriplegia injury.

The defendants in Mr. Contreras’s medical malpractice lawsuit involved both the hospital where the surgery took place, Thorek Memorial Hospital, as well as the nursing agency that employed some of the nurses responsible for monitoring the patient, Holistic Nursing, Inc. Thorek Memorial Hospital was responsible for the bulk of the $18.75 million settlement, with its contribution of $18 million, while Holistic Nursing, Inc., contributed the remaining $750,000. The settlement is meant to reimburse the plaintiff for his past medical expenses and also offset his future medical and living expenses as a result of his permanent disability.

Kreisman Law Offices has been handling Illinois surgical malpractice lawsuits for more than 35 years in and around Chicago and Cook County, including Lansing, Midlothian, Harvard, Crestwood, Bridgeview, and Chicago’s Roscoe Village.

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