Jury Finds for Hospital and Doctors in Undiagnosed Dissecting Aortic Aneurysm Death

Michael Sebestl, 37, experienced the sudden onset of severe chest pain. This occurred at home around 6 a.m. on June 1, 2008. He told his wife he thought he was having a heart attack, so she called 911 and he was taken by ambulance to Riverside Medical Center in Kankakee, Ill. On the way to the hospital, he told the paramedics that he had a history of GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease) and that his current symptoms were similar to those but worse than he had ever experienced.

At Riverside Hospital, Sebestl continued to complain of chest pain and a burning sensation on the back of his throat, which was worse when lying on his back. He was examined by the defendant emergency room physician Dr. Manczko, who was near the end of his 12-hour shift. Dr. Manczko interpreted the EKG as normal, ordered a chest x-ray and made a provisional diagnosis of GERD.

Then the care was turned over to another defendant ER physician, Dr. Donna Bell. After the x-ray came back negative, Dr. Bell decided to conduct a more thorough evaluation and ordered further testing, which included a second EKG and blood work for serial cardiac enzymes, Lipase and D-Dimer levels. After all the tests came back normal and the patient’s pain was reduced with narcotic pain medications to a level of 3 out of 10, Dr. Bell diagnosed GERD and discharged Sebestl from the hospital around noon that day.

Sebestl’s wife testified at the jury trial that he appeared to be resting comfortably at home the rest of the day. However, around 9 p.m., he suddenly suffered acute chest pain, clutched his chest and collapsed in front of his pregnant wife.

He was rushed by ambulance back to Riverside Hospital where he was pronounced dead on arrival. An autopsy determined the cause of death was a dissecting aortic aneurysm that had ruptured and bled into the pericardial sac, leading to cardiac tamponade. Cardiac tamponade is defined as pressure on the heart that occurs when blood or fluid builds up in the space between the heart muscle and the outer covering sac of the heart. In this case, the fluid was the blood that burst into the pericardial sac.

Sebestl was survived by his wife and four-year-old daughter and his second daughter, who was born just three days after he died. The lawsuit claimed $15,000 for medical and funeral expenses and $2.1 million to $2.3 million for past and future earnings lost as a cardboard box salesman.

The family of Michael Sebestl contended that the defendants, which included the hospital and the two ER doctors, were negligent in choosing not to diagnose the dissecting aortic aneurysm, negligent in that the standard of care required ruling out the three primary life-threatening conditions that cause severe sudden chest pain which are heart attack, pulmonary embolism and aortic dissection. It was also alleged that the defendants chose not rule out aortic dissection by ordering a CT angiogram, which would have taken only 15 minutes to do. The angiogram would have detected the dissection in time for an emergency surgical repair with a chance of survival. The chest x-ray was borderline abnormal and the D-Dimer test results were actually abnormal but were incorrectly reported as normal because the hospital lab used the wrong reference range.

The defendants maintained that Sebestl had none of the risk factors or typical signs/symptoms of aortic dissection. Aortic dissection is a very rare condition in men of his age, and the chance of dissection was made infinitesimally smaller with the negative test results.

The defendants also argued that CT angiograms bear risks, including radiation exposure and rare allergic reactions to the contrast material, so such a test was not indicated. That seems like a very weak reason for not doing the testing to determine a life-threatening condition. It was also argued by the defendants that they acted reasonably in clinically ruling out aortic dissection, all presenting signs and complaints were consistent with GERD and the autopsy showed esophageal erosion consistent with a GERD attack that morning and a ruptured aneurysm consistent with the sudden cardiac event that night.

The jury considered the case in deliberation for seven hours. However, the verdict was in favor of all of the defendants and against the family of Michael Sebestl. The parties entered a high/low agreement whereby the total high was $600,000 had the family prevailed and a low of $100,000 since there was a verdict for the defendants. The $100,000 is hardly a substitute for the loss of a precious life.

The attorneys representing the Sebestl family were Norman H. Pylman and Scott R. Melton.

At trial, the Sebestl family engaged experts in emergency medicine, gastroenterology, cardiology and economics. The defendants hired experts in emergency medicine and cardiology.

The Estate of Michael Sebestl v. Riverside Medical Center, Dr. Thaddeus Manczko, Dr. Donna Bell, et al., No. 10 L 57 (Kankakee County, Ill.).

Kreisman Law Offices has been handling medical malpractice cases, birth trauma injury cases, nursing home negligence cases, hospital negligence cases and wrongful death cases for individuals and families who have been harmed, injured or died as a result of the carelessness or negligence of a medical provider for more than 40 years in and around Chicago, Cook County and its surrounding areas, including Naperville, New Lenox, Mount Prospect, Prospect Heights, Palatine, Palos Hills, South Barrington, Morton Grove, Deerfield, Wheeling, Buffalo Grove, Chicago (Wicker Park, Bucktown, Logan Square, Albany Park, Rogers Park, Jefferson Park, Lincoln Square), Fort Sheridan and Lake Forest, Ill.

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