Illinois Hospital’s Failure to Monitor Patient Results in Permanent Brain Damage – $14.9 Million Settlement in Lee v. Palos Community Hospital

A $14.9 million settlement was reached in an Illinois medical malpractice case that left the plaintiff with permanent brain damage. The lawsuit of Jennifer Lee v. Palos Community Hospital, et al., 09 L 7824, was brought against the hospital where the plaintiff was treated, as well as the individual doctors who treated the plaintiff.

In 2009, plaintiff, Jennifer Lee, presented to Palos Community Hospital with severe dehydration from vomiting and diarrhea. The typical treatment for dehydration is to pump the patient with IV fluids and monitor their electrolyte levels. When Ms. Lee presented to the hospital, her initial blood work showed an extremely high level of sodium. While normal sodium levels range from 135 mmol/L to 145 mmol/L, Ms. Lee’s sodium level was at 165 mmol/L.

Typically, dehydration results in low sodium levels, not high sodium levels. Blood sodium levels can indicate whether there is an imbalance between the levels of sodium and water in your body. While Ms. Lee’s initial sodium levels were critically high, it fluctuated between critically high and critically low during the course of her admission. In fact, it was this change from critically high, to critically low, then back to critically high that caused the plaintiff’s brain damage and was the subject of her medical malpractice lawsuit.

Lee’s medical malpractice complaint alleged that the nephrologists handling Ms. Lee’s case failed to monitor her sodium levels. The complaint alleged that had Drs. Jung Jun and Akash Ahuja properly monitored Lee’s sodium levels they would have taken measures to stabilize her sodium levels, which would have prevented Lee from slipping into a coma and developing permanent brain damage.

While Lee was only in her mid-20s, her medical malpractice lawsuit was complicated by her past medical history. At age 10, Lee underwent a pituitary tumor resection and radiation treatment, which left her legally blind and with a non-functioning pituitary gland and a damaged hypothalamus. The pituitary gland secretes various hormones that help maintain a stable internal environment, while the hypothalamus produces hormones that control body temperature, hunger, mood, and the release of several hormones.

As a result of her prior medical condition, Lee required vasopressin to maintain normal electrolytes, particularly sodium and potassium. Therefore, Lee was more predisposed to an electrolyte imbalance than the typical female. However, the nephrologists should have been aware of this condition and been even more vigilant about monitoring Lee’s drastically fluctuating sodium levels in order to prevent brain damage.

The Cook County medical malpractice lawsuit settled for $14.9 million prior to trial, with both Drs. Jung Jun and Akash Ahuja paying $1 million, the maximum of each of their medical malpractice insurance policies; $900,000 from Southwest Nephrology Associates, S.C., the doctors’ physician group, and with Palos Community Hospital paying $10 million from its self-insured retention policy and an additional $2 million from its insurance subsidiary.
Kreisman Law Offices has been handling Chicago medical malpractice and Illinois brain damage injury cases for more than 35 years in and around Chicago, Cook County, and surrounding areas, including Deerfield, Chicago’s Rogers Park, Mt. Prospect, Elmhurst, and Palos Park.

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