Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital
Paul Wellman

Judge Donna Geck has allowed attorneys for the family of 43-year-old Carmen Alexander, who died last year of a flesh-eating bacteria infection, 14 days to amend their complaint against Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital. Alexander’s family is suing the hospital and two doctors for wrongful death and medical negligence.

Carmen Alexander

The popular teacher at Open Alternative School died in February 2012, two days after she was first admitted to Cottage. In their legal filing, her family claims two physicians — Sylvia Kim and John Patrick Wheelock—failed to timely diagnose and treat Alexander, which allowed a serious bacterial infection, known as necrotizing fasciitis (NF), to quickly spread and destroy tissue throughout her body. Doctors could have easily preformed simple tests on Alexander to rule out NF, according to attorneys at Newport-based Lopez McHugh LLP.

The law firm and the plaintiffs — Alexander’s three children through their legal guardian, Vadim Hsu — say the doctors should not have discharged Alexander the same day she was admitted to Cottage Hospital, because she demonstrated “classic signs of NF,” such as localized chest pain, swelling of the chest, vomiting, and dehydration. Alexander returned to the Cottage ER the next morning at 7 a.m. with “severe and worsening symptoms,” the court filing reads. Hours later, she was admitted to the Intensive Care Unit and diagnosed with severe sepsis with a “presumed diagnosis of pneumonia.” She was ultimately diagnosed with NF and underwent several treatments, but the disease had spread too far.

The family claims that negligence on the part of her health-care providers allowed Alexander’s NF to advance to later stages, which substantially reduced her chance of survival. “The bottom line is what is the liability,” said attorney Troy Alexander Brenes, who is representing the family. “And has the hospital since then done anything to update their plan?”

The answer to that question remains unknown, as representatives at Cottage Hospital would not comment specifically on the case. In an email, they stated that that only four out of the 68 patients treated with NF between 2010 and 2013 at Cottage Health System died from it. Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital, represented by Reback, McAndrews, Kjar, Warford, Stockalper & Moore, denied all the plaintiffs’ allegations and any wrongdoing in legal filings. Both sides will reconvene in court in September.


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