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Living With A Life Changing Spinal Injury: A Story of Medical Negligence

Spinal injuries can impact your life forever. Your spine gives you mobility and structure for everyday activities. Losing that mobility can take away your freedom and independence, making you completely reliant on other people. Mike lost his freedom when his back surgeons failed to provide him with quality care. We hope Mike’s experience will help you to ask the right questions and find trustworthy doctors to see to your medical needs.

Mike, a 40-year old man, showed up at the hospital with severe and intensifying pain in his upper and mid back and burning sensation in his groin. In years past, he had an intrathecal pain pump installed into his body to deliver morphine to his spine for pain management. Mike had been diagnosed with thoracolumbar post laminectomy syndrome otherwise known as failed back surgery syndrome. Mike was sent to receive MRI imaging which showed an intrathecal catheter tip granuloma. In other words, Mike’s immune system was walling off the tip of the pain pump because his body recognized it as foreign matter. This was creating inflammation where the tip ended, which was at the mid-point of his spinal cord. Surgeon Dr. Lee* determined that there was a pedicle stress fracture just below his mid-spinal region, which required surgery, so Mike underwent a posterior spinal fusion that fused his lower and mid back. Mike had previously endured a different spinal surgery that fused his lowest spinal point to his mid back, to which the new fusion was anchored.

Dr. Lee was informed that the intrathecal catheter was anchored to bone and should be avoided during surgery. However, Dr. Lee disregarded the advice and cut through the catheter. He then had to replace the catheter. Unfortunately, Dr. Lee placed the new catheter in the wrong location – into the spinal cord itself rather than into the intrathecal space where it was supposed to be located.  He permitted a kink in the catheter to occur and left it in position where it could adhere to the thoracic spinal cord. Worse yet, imaging studies were not performed during or after the surgery to confirm the correct location of the catheter in the intrathecal space.

For the next nine months, Mike required higher and higher dosages of oral pain medicines because of the relentless pain he was experiencing. During these months, his health care providers did not take any steps to determine the reason for his pain, which was in fact due to the kink and misplacement of the catheter.

He continued to follow up with his doctor for adjustments of the morphine that was being infused into his thoracic spine from the intrathecal pain pump. Eventually doctors recommended that the pain pump should be replaced because it had exhausted its battery life. During the replacement procedure, a segment of the catheter was found to be partially kinked with an area eroded into the catheter wall. A new catheter extension was attached, and a new pain pump was connected and filled with morphine. The surgeon did not confirm during or after this procedure that the intrathecal part of the catheter was in the correct location, thereby leaving it where it was from the previous surgery – in the center of the spinal cord instead of in the intrathecal space.

By removing the kinked part of the catheter and failing to confirm the correct location of the end of the catheter, the administration of morphine went directly into the spinal cord, progressively and irreparably damaging the cord.

Mike began to experience intractable nausea, vomiting, and new back pain, such as severe burning in his lower back which he reported to his doctor multiple times.  Soon, Mike also began experiencing severe abdominal pain and urinary retention.

Mike continued to report the progressive neurologic symptoms and went to the emergency room twice for catheterization to remove retained urine. He was having sharp back pain with numbness, tingling, and weakness in his lower extremities. Even though he now had loss of feeling in his lower extremities up to his nipple line, doctors decided they would only adjust morphine output in the pain pump. Shortly thereafter, Mike was completely unable to move from the chest down but was advised there was nothing more that could be done for him.

He returned to the hospital with urinary retention and bilateral lower extremity numbness, yet no neurosurgical consult nor any imaging were ordered to further assess his neurological symptoms.

Finally, Mike returned to the hospital, yet again, this time by ambulance because he was unable to walk or get out of bed because he could not move his legs. This time, it was determined that the intrathecal catheter had adhered to the thoracic spinal cord and that the thoracic spinal cord had received excessive morphine, thereby progressively causing the neurologic symptoms that has led to permanent paraplegia. 

Mike suffered unnecessary and terrible ongoing pain and lost the use of his lower extremities, all of which was entirely preventable had he received good, safe medical care.  Mike is now at increased risk for a myriad of medical problems directly resulting from his paraplegia. His life is forever changed.

The injustice Mike suffered due to the negligence of doctors and surgeons exemplifies the reason why these health professionals must be held accountable for their actions. There cannot be short cuts when the lives of individuals hang in the balance. Mike cannot work, drive, or live without assistance. Without the help of our team and the financial compensation he received as a result, he would now be completely reliant on disability checks that would hardly cover his fulltime care and therapy.

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If you believe you or someone you love, have been a victim of medical negligence, please give us a call us. Suffering in silence only gives negligent doctors the opportunity to repeat the same mistakes on someone else.

*Names have been changed

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