An Iowa family has been awarded $29.5 million in an allergy-related medical malpractice case.  The unusual case was filed on behalf of a woman who died while undergoing a CT scan, one of the most common imaging tests performed by doctors.  The case is not only tragic, but it highlights an important element of diagnostic testing that is often overlooked as dangerous – allergic reactions.

Read on to learn more about the medical malpractice case, why it highlights important information for other patients, and what you can do to protect your health and your rights.

Allergy-Related Medical Malpractice Case Information

The medical malpractice case began in June 2015, at an appointment which should have been standard.  The patient, Carrie DeJongh, went to Sioux Center Health for a computerized tomography scan (CT scan).  This routine and very common procedure should have been simple and quick.  Instead, it was deadly.

According to reports, DeJongh suffered an anaphylactic reaction to the contrast dye used during the CT scan.  She went into shock and lost consciousness just minutes after the contrast was administered.  The doctor who was attending the procedure administered Benadryl, which is used for minor allergic reactions, not anaphylaxis.

After several minutes, DeJongh regained consciousness and records indicate that she was combative and screaming for help.  She was restrained for a total of 26 minutes before her heart stopped beating.  The same doctor who administered the Benadryl administered epinephrine, but only after her heart stopped.

The result of the severe reaction and continued oxygen deprivation resulted in severe brain damage.  DeJongh died later that evening.  DeJongh left behind a husband and four children who filed a lawsuit on her behalf following her death.  The lawsuit claimed that the doctor and Sioux Center Health were negligent, and had DeJongh received proper treatment, she would have survived her ordeal.

It is unclear whether DeJongh had a history of allergies that could have warned doctors about the use of contrast.  What is clear is that the doctor monitoring the CT scan should have administered epinephrine immediately to treat the anaphylactic reaction.  That is what a jury apparently believed when they awarded the DeJongh family $29.5 million.

Case Could Highlight Problems with Insurance Settlements

Prior to the case going to trial, DeJongh’s family and insurance companies for the defendants attempted to reach a settlement.  Neither side could agree on a fair settlement amount, and the medical malpractice case went to trial.  The insurance company, MMIC Insurance Inc.  argued against the attorneys representing the patient’s family, citing a 90 percent track record for winning cases for their insured parties.

Dealing with insurance companies in any situation can be difficult, but in high-value cases like medical malpractice or wrongful death, the battle can be extremely complex and stress-inducing.  Attorneys for the plaintiffs believe that MMIC will file an appeal, which will continue to keep the case in the legal system.

Many attorneys believe that insurance companies delay and continue to file appeals and motions in an effort to earn more money and pressure the other side into giving up or settling for less than their case is really worth.  Attorneys for DeJongh’s family hope that this large award amount will raise eyebrows and create opportunities for insurance reform and better medical practices.

After a medical malpractice injury or death, one of the most difficult things for any family to do is try to negotiate with insurance companies.  During the grieving process, emotions are high, and it can be difficult to manage your situation.  That is where the attorneys at Brown & Brothers can help.  We can help you manage negotiations and ensure that your legal rights and best interests are protected throughout the resolution process.

Understanding Contrast and Potential Allergy Risks

We often talk about possible risks or complications from medical procedures, but one area that is often left out of the conversation is allergies, especially in situations like diagnostics.  Many diagnostic tests, such as CT scans, MRIs, and ultrasounds are performed with the use of contrast.

Contrast is an agent or media that allows imaging devices to see the body differently, allowing radiologists to see abnormalities that otherwise may not be visible.  Contrast helps highlight and identify certain parts of the body from surrounding tissue and organs, which also helps doctors make better diagnoses.  Contrast is administered in three different ways, depending on the testing being done:

  • Oral administration (taken by mouth)
  • Rectal administration (enema)
  • Injection (injection into an IV line or vein)

Contrast is made up of iodine and/or barium-sulfate, with different doses comprised of different ingredients according to the test being done and the type of administration.  For example, MRIs, which use magnets, may require contrast containing gadolinium, which alters water molecules and enhances imaging.  Iodine and barium-sulfate are more commonly used in X-rays and CT scans, as they change the way that X-rays pass through during imaging.

According to the website radiologyinfo.org, contrast is a safe drug, and adverse reactions are generally mild or moderate.  Further, radiology departments are generally considered to be well-equipped to handle any allergic reaction.  Adverse or allergic reactions to contrast may include:

Mild Reactions

  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Headache
  • Itching
  • Hives
  • Mild rash

Moderate Reactions

  • Wheezing
  • Severe hives or rash
  • Abnormal heartbeat
  • Low or high blood pressure
  • Difficulty breathing

Severe Reactions

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Extremely low blood pressure
  • Convulsions
  • Confusion
  • Bluish colored skin
  • Red skin
  • Cardiac arrest
  • Swelling in the throat or other body parts

While these reactions are generalized as possible side effects, there are some risk factors that may increase your chances of suffering an adverse reaction to contrast depending on the type used.  These risks include:

Barium-Sulfate Risk Factors

  • History of asthma, allergies, or hay fever
  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Severe dehydration or constipation
  • Intestinal blockage

Idodine Risk Factors

  • History of allergies or asthma
  • History of shellfish allergy
  • Heart disease
  • Severe dehydration
  • Renal disease
  • Previous reactions to iodine
  • Sickle cell anemia, polycytemia, or myeloma
  • Medications including NSAIDs and beta blockers
  • Recent exposure to large amounts of iodine

Protecting Your Health and Legal Rights

Before undergoing any sort of imaging or diagnostic test, talk to your doctor about any potential side effects, allergic reactions, or other factors that you should be aware of.  Tell your doctor about any allergies you already have, or other medical conditions that may affect the outcome of your tests.

If you are concerned about your legal rights related to any medical tests or procedures, contact Brown & Brothers to learn more.  Fill out our online form to request your free consultation, and learn more about your rights as a patient, and what you can do if you suspect you or a family member have a medical malpractice case.

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