The three teenage children of a 43-year-old woman who suddenly died from a flesh-eating-bacteria infection settled a wrongful death case last month with Cottage hospital for $600,000.
The plaintiffs claimed Emergency Room doctors acted negligently when they discharged Carmen Alexander the same day she was admitted, even though she had a large bruise on her upper chest, breathing difficulties, and nausea.
“The evidence was right in front of them,” said Vadim Hsu, who is the plaintiffs’ guardian and Alexander’s ex-husband. “It should have made the physician jump out of her skin.”
When she got home that night, Alexander had gotten much worse. She had a massively growing infection, with fluid in her lungs that turned out to be blood, Hsu said. Early the next morning, Alexander was taken back to the Emergency Room. Hours later, she was diagnosed with necrotizing fasciitis (NF), or what’s commonly called “flesh eating disease,” a deadly bacteria infection that is relatively rare.
When she was admitted to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU), the infection had spread too far. Doctors made surgical attempts to no avail. She died hours later, just 30 hours after she was first admitted to the hospital.
“We were very complimentary of the surgical team that tried to save her life in the end,” Hsu said. “If they had gotten the chance to work on her, it’s our strong belief she had a 90 percent survival rate.”
Alexander’s death in 2012 shocked the community. She was a teacher at Open Alternative School, and she impressed those who knew her well. “Everyone was so surprised,” Hsu said. “She was the portrait of health.”
The lawsuit filed against Cottage was to ensure Alexander “didn’t die in vain,” Hsu said. According to a letter sent by Dr. Edmund Wroblewski, the hospital’s vice president of Medical Affairs, to the Hsu children, Cottage officials updated their policies so that a patient at the ER showing certain levels of white blood cells would alert a physician in a shorter time frame. “Had this change in policy been made prior to your mother’s death, he wrote, “she would not have been discharged from our hospital on February 19, 2012.” (Cottage spokesperson Maria Zate declined to comment.)
“What the upshot of this lawsuit was, was to put in place measures to idiot-proof policy and procedure,” Hsu added. “There needed to be a system in place so that a doctor who ordered the test in the first place actually reads the test and does something about it.”
The case ended almost exactly five years after Alexander died. “Based upon what they got,” Hsu said, “[The attorneys] probably ended up working on less than minimum wage.” Total fees and costs totaled about $200,000. As for the children, they will each receive $132,702 total, paid in increments on their 23rd, 25th, 27th, and 29th birthdays.