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2 doctors found negligent in death

Jury awards $14.5 million to family of woman
who died after thyroid surgery

By Jonathan Saltzman, Globe Staff
Boston Globe, March 4, 2008

A Middlesex County jury awarded $14.5 million yesterday to the family of a 30-year-old Chelmsford woman who died the day after thyroid surgery at Brockton Hospital from uncontrolled bleeding that the plaintiff's lawyers said stemmed from air trapped in her abdomen.

Shannyn MacPherson had gone to Dr. John Ambrosino for treatment of a lump on her thyroid gland.

After deliberating less than five hours, a Superior Court jury in Lowell concluded that two surgeons and their medical practice were negligent in the May 2001 death of Shannyn MacPherson, said Robert Higgins, a Boston lawyer for MacPherson's family.

The jury also found the lead surgeon, Dr. John Ambrosino, and his Brockton practice, Ambrosino, Davis & White, responsible for MacPherson's death, Higgins said. The other surgeon, Dr. Julie White, was negligent but not responsible in the death, the jury said.

The award includes more than $5 million in interest.

The award will undoubtedly be one of the biggest in a medical malpractice case in Massachusetts this year, if not the biggest, said David L. Yas, publisher and editor of Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly, which monitors such awards.

"We typically see no more than a handful of verdicts that top $10 million [each year]," said Yas, who added that only one exceeded that sum last year.

Higgins said MacPherson developed a condition called abdominal compartment syndrome from air that somehow got into her abdomen and that doctors failed to respond appropriately, which ultimately caused her organs to bleed.

"You have a 30-year-old woman who walks in — she's healthy," Higgins said. "And you had a doctor who was inexperienced. He'd never treated this condition before."

MacPherson had gone to Ambrosino for treatment of a lump on her thyroid gland, Higgins said. The physician took a biopsy but was unsure whether it was cancerous, so MacPherson underwent surgery for removal of the mass.

The surgical team began operating at 8 a.m. on May 9, removed the lump, and quickly determined that it was benign, Higgins said. After surgery, the staff noticed that MacPherson's abdomen was swollen. Her belly and legs had also turned bluish.

The doctors returned MacPherson to the operating room and made an incision to release the air, but erred by immediately closing the wound, Higgins said. "You're not supposed to close [the patient] back up. She had so much air in her belly, and you need to leave them open."

Within 90 minutes, he said, MacPherson's abdomen had swollen again, and the pressure of the trapped air caused her internal organs to bleed. At 11 p.m., MacPherson was flown by emergency helicopter to Boston Medical Center, where she had surgery at 1:30 a.m. on May 10 and died shortly after 4 p.m., Higgins said.


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