Death of 22-Year-old Woman Prompts Question: Could She Have Been Saved with Better Emergency Room Care?

Sometimes we have to wonder: Would we get the best care possible if we were to be transported to a hospital emergency room? Our local hospital has a good reputation, but it is managed by humans, correct? And humans are known to make mistakes.

The quality of care was debated in the case of a young woman who died in a Brooklyn hospital five years ago. She was an aspiring novelist named Sabrina Seelig.Only 22 at the time of her death, Seelig might have received inadequate care. At least, that is what her family believes.

Convinced she was the victim of errors and misjudgment in the emergency room at her local hospital, they filed a medical malpractice suit. The case went to trial this spring, and the trial lasted four weeks. A jury decided that neither the hospital nor an emergency room doctor or nurse had been negligent.

Nevertheless, troubling questions remain, not only for her family but for all of us who must at some time rely on emergency room care.

Apparently Seelig’s problems started late one night when she was studying for an exam. She took Ephedra, a stimlant diet drug that has been banned by the federal Food and Drug Administration. She had had a few beers and also took an herbal remedy.

Saying she felt sick, Seelig called 911. She told the operator she might have poisoned herself.
Seelig also called the local Poison Control Center, and an operator there told her to wait for the ambulance. The operator also advised her to call a friend or her mother, who lived out of state.

After the ambulance arrived at her home, she was delivered to Wyckoff Heights Medical Center. According to testimony at the trial, an emergency room doctor gave her two anti-nausea drugs and two intravenous doses of a sedative.

After that, however, she seems to have received inadequate medical attention. Witnesses agreed there were no vital signs entered into her chart for more than three hours, indicating that Seelig was left unattended. She was found in an overflow area of the hospital with a racing heartbeat. She was also foaming at the mouth. By that evening she was brain damaged and on life support. Her parents transferred her to a hospital in Manhattan, but she died six days later.

Defense counsel said Seelig had suffered a heart attack brought on by taking Ephedra and possibly other drugs. Her family’s attorneys argued that her treatment at the hospital contributed to her death. Some medical experts said Seelig should have been moved to intensive care. It is unclear as to whether her life could have been saved had this been done.Her parents received a letter of condolence from the New York City health commissioner.

A story about Seelig was published in the New York Times.
Kreisman Law Offices has been handling Illinois emergency room error lawsuits for over 36 years, serving those areas in and around Cook County, including Naperville, Palos Heights, Inverness, Winnetka, and Blue Island, Ill.

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