A Warner Robins woman was awarded $5 million this week after a state court jury found an emergency room staff negligent in not diagnosing blockages in her arteries that led to both her legs being amputated.
An attorney for Ellen Wadsworth, who had to have her legs removed below the knee in 2008, said her client is “basically a prisoner in her home.”
Attorney Tracey Dellacona said Friday the case highlights the need for stronger state laws on delivery of emergency room care.
“According to the statute, they [hospitals] only have to provide you with a little bit of care if you are in an emergency situation, and that means immediate threat to your life or limb,” Dellacona said. “It really gives a free pass to the health care provider.”
Wadsworth was taken to the Houston Medical Center in Warner Robins on Thanksgiving Day in 2008, complaining of intense pain in her legs and coldness in both feet.
According to papers filed in a lawsuit this month in Gwinnett County state court, a physician’s assistant at Houston Medical, Greg Howland, found a “diminished pulse” in Wadsworth’s legs but determined she suffered from a cellulitis-related infection. After consulting with a supervising physician, Dr. Paul Paustian, Howland ordered morphine and prescribed antibiotics and pain medication to treat the infection.
Before releasing her, Howland said he instructed Wadsworth to follow up with her primary care physician the next day but to return to the emergency room if her condition worsened.
During the emergency room visit, however, Wadsworth’s attorneys said the physician’s assistant “ordered no tests or procedures to determine whether Ms. Wadsworth had blockages in the arteries of her legs,” according to court papers.
Later that same evening on Nov. 27 Wadsworth’s condition worsened, and she was found by family members unresponsive in her Warner Robins home.
She’d suffered a heart attack due to lack of blood flow and pressure, according to court papers. When EMTs returned her to Houston Medical just after midnight, emergency room staff could not detect a pulse in her legs and found blockages in her arteries.
Wadsworth also had developed signs of blood clots, renal failure and sepsis between the time she was first seen in the emergency room and when she returned several hours later, according to defense lawyers.
Seven days later, on Dec. 4, Wadsworth’s legs were amputated below the knee.
Wadsworth’s attorneys filed suit earlier this month against Howland, Paustian and their employer, Norcross-based Emcare of Georgia, claiming gross negligence. They sought damages for pain and suffering and future medical expenses.
A jury found in Wadsworth’s favor on Monday. Efforts were being made Friday to get comments from attorneys for Emcare.
Emcare’s lawyers had argued that Wadsworth, a longtime smoker, had pre-existing medical problems including diabetes, hypertension and back pain.
The lawyers contended that even though Wadsworth most likely had pre-existing vascular disease, emergency room staffers saw no sign of blockages in her leg veins when she first arrived on Nov. 27. The lawyers said the physician’s assistant checked for blockages but didn’t find any.
Wadsworth’s attorneys argued she should have been examined by Paustian or another physician when she went to the emergency room the first time, but was only examined by a physician’s assistant, even though Paustian said he “reviewed all pertinent and clinical information” and agree with the care she received.
Wadsworth, who is in her 60s, has not been able to wear prosthetics because they are too painful to walk in, her attorney said.
Dellacona said Wadsworth’s apartment is not handicapped accessible, and she uses a “grasper” for things out of reach. She also doesn’t have a vehicle that is equipped to accommodate a mobilized wheelchair