Medical Malpractice Involving Spinal Cord Damage, Meningitis, Paralysis & Brain Injury

doctor looking at xray

Michigan medical malpractice attorney Gurrajan Gill discusses cases involving neck and back injuries, spinal cord injuries, meningitis, paralysis and brain damage.

Injuries and infections involving the spinal cord can be devastating. The spinal cord and brain make up the central nervous system. The spinal cord is the main pathway for information connecting the brain and the peripheral (outer) nervous system. It is a long, fragile tube-like structure that starts at the end of the brain stem and continues down to the bottom of the spine. In many of our cases, we see neck and back problems that are mismanaged, resulting in significant spinal cord damage and other long-term problems. Indeed, spinal cord damage - and infections involving the spine - can result in permanent problems, such as decreased function of one or more limbs, paralysis, and brain damage.

We have worked on many different types of spinal cord and brain injury cases, and below is a discussion of a few of these.

Delayed Diagnosis of Neck Infections (Abscesses), Resulting in Prolonged Compression of the Spinal Cord & Paralysis

The patient in this case presented to the emergency department (ED) with severe neck swelling, neck pain, decreased range of motion of the neck, headache and light sensitivity. The ED staff did not take a detailed history, did not draw any labs, and did not perform any imaging studies of the patient’s neck. They discharged him less than 2 hours after he arrived, with prescriptions for pain medications and muscle relaxants.

Two days later, the patient again presented to the ED. His symptoms were the same as before, with the addition of throat pain, difficulty swallowing, fever, nausea, a ruddy neck, and significant neck tenderness. Imaging studies of his neck were delayed by hours, and when a CT scan was worrisome for a large infectious process with some spinal cord compression – and an MRI was recommended – the hospital staff did nothing. None of the healthcare workers seemed worried about his sudden onset of difficulty swallowing (a red flag for possible airway loss and other serious issues), nor did they seem concerned about potential spinal cord impingement.

While waiting for the healthcare team to treat him, the patient started to exhibit changes in his neurological state, and he decompensated to the point of having severe weakness in his arms and legs. The patient’s airway became compromised, he couldn’t breathe, and the team had to give him a breathing tube (endotracheal tube) and place him on a breathing machine (ventilator). A STAT MRI was finally performed (12 + hours after arrival), which revealed a large abscess in the back of his throat, as well as an abscess on his cervical spine (neck) from C2-C6. He was rushed to the operating room (14 + hours after arrival), where he underwent major surgical procedures that included spinal cord decompression. The surgeon noted that the patient had become paralyzed while the staff was “working up” his abscess.

Improper / Unsterile Facet Blocks (Injections into the Small Joints on the Sides of the Spine) & Delayed Diagnosis of Spinal Infection, Resulting in Spinal Abscess, Sepsis, Osteomyelitis of the Spine (Bone Destruction Caused by Infection), & Meningitis

This patient received numerous injections (called facet blocks) into her spine to help relieve her lower back pain. After receiving the injections, she was quickly sent home. Within days, the patient started to make calls to the pain clinic to ask why her back pain was actually worse, and why she felt sick. Her calls were never returned by the doctor who did the injections, and the patient was never instructed to come back to the pain clinic (or to go to any healthcare provider) for inspection of the injection sites. A couple of weeks after receiving the injections, she felt so ill that she could barely move. The patient was rushed to the hospital, where she was diagnosed with a spinal abscess, sepsis and bacterial meningitis (inflammation of the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord caused by bacteria). The surgeon told her that she had been within a half hour of death. Sadly, the spinal infection resulted in osteomyelitis and permanent degradation of her spine, and the meningitis caused permanent brain injury. The patient’s lifelong problems include memory problems and other cognitive issues, chronic lower back pain, and difficulty with ambulation.

Failure to Promptly Diagnose & Treat Large Disc Herniation, Spinal Cord Compression & Cauda Equina Syndrome (CES), Resulting in Paralysis

The patient in this case presented to his orthopedic surgeon’s office for a follow up visit after undergoing lumbar fusion surgery 7 months prior. At this visit, it was noted that the patient was experiencing constant, severe lower back pain that was radiating to his lower extremities, with pain in his hips, thigh and groin area. Given the patient’s history of 2 previous lumbar spine surgeries – and his current signs and symptoms – the surgeon should have suspected disc herniation and thus should have included this in his differential diagnosis. Unfortunately, the surgeon failed to perform a thorough neurological assessment / exam and failed to order an appropriate imaging study to diagnose or rule out disc herniation.

Four days later, the patient was taken to the ED by ambulance because his pain was so intense. It was noted that he had back pain, pelvic pain and hip pain that was constant and radiating down his leg – and that pain medication did not relieve the pain. The ED team did not order a consultation with an orthopedic surgeon or neurosurgeon, nor did the team perform a thorough neurological exam / assessment. No imaging studies were performed. Instead, the team discharged the patient home on pain medication.

The patient was back at the ED within 2 days. The ED team recognized that an MRI was indicated, but delayed performing it because the patient was in too much pain. The patient was not admitted to the hospital for over 36 hours, and during this time, he developed more red flag neurological signs and symptoms, including urinary retention and weakness in his extremities. An MRI was finally performed about 11 hours after the patient arrived to the ED – and the imaging study revealed compression of his thecal sac (protective membrane surrounding the spinal cord), with severe thecal sac stenosis. This compression was a medical emergency requiring emergent surgery, but the staff did not even admit the patient to the hospital at this time. In fact, surgery was not scheduled for 2 more days.

Sadly, the significantly delayed diagnosis and treatment of the thecal sac / spinal cord compression (caused by a large herniated disc) resulted in permanent damage to the patient’s spinal cord, which caused the patient to suffer paralysis in his left leg, right drop foot, neuropathy, foot numbness and other lower extremity problems. Prior to the delayed diagnosis and treatment of his disc herniation and spinal cord compression, the patient was walking 5 miles a day. Now, the patient needs a walker and other assistive devices to be able to move around and walk.

The Grewal Medical Malpractice Team is Here to Help.

These are just a few of the many types of medical malpractice cases that the attorneys at Grewal Law handle. Medical errors are the third leading cause of death in the U.S., right behind heart disease and cancer, and the Grewal Law medical malpractice attorneys are passionate about holding hospitals, medical centers, clinics, and pharmacies – as well as their healthcare workers – responsible for negligent actions that cause harm to patients.

Grewal Law has built a strong record of success in medical malpractice, birth trauma, and personal injury lawsuits. The firm’s attorneys have obtained hundreds of millions of dollars in compensation for their clients. The firm’s medical malpractice team includes 2 medical doctors (one of whom is a doctor and a lawyer), several attorneys with decades of medical malpractice experience, a nurse, a respiratory therapist, a paramedic and a pharmacist.

Scott Weidenfeller is an award-winning attorney who is an executive board member of the Michigan Association for Justice. He has obtained millions of dollars for his clients and has had some of the highest medical malpractice settlements and verdicts in Michigan.

If you believe that you or a family member was a victim of medical malpractice, please contact our team of experienced medical malpractice lawyers. When Grewal Law represents you, there is never a fee unless we recover money for your case. The Grewal law medical malpractice attorneys are licensed in Michigan, Florida and Arizona, and are available 24/7 to speak with you.

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