NH Couple, Hospital Settle for $1.25 Million in Kidney Transplant Suit

By Jessica Fargen, Boston Herald, August 15, 2010

A New Hampshire couple has agreed to a $1.25 million settlement in a lawsuit against three doctors and a nurse at a Boston hospital, claiming the doctors turned a perfect match kidney transplant into a years-long health nightmare.

"Mike had a great chance at a new life and it was the best chance he had and we knew it," said Mary Findley, 55, whose husband, Mike, 54, received the transplant at Tufts Medical Center in 2003. "It was a gift of life."

The Findleys' attorney planned to argue that understaffing, rookie doctors-in-training and chain-of-command breakdowns at the teaching hospital, which was known as New England Medical Center at the time, led to the donor kidney dying a week after the transplant.

The Findleys of Nashua, N.H., settled with the defendants Wednesday, the day opening arguments were scheduled in Suffolk Superior Court. The defendants did not admit guilt.

Attorney William J. Dailey III said the defendants "initiated care and treatment in accordance with the standard of care."

It is unlikely that earlier intervention would have saved the transplanted kidney," he said.

Hoping for relief

Findley, a building inspector, was looking forward to being off dialysis, a thrice-weekly disruption to his life. He is now on a national kidney transplant list, which has a four-to-five year wait.

The kidney, donated from Findley’s brother, Jeff, 48, was a perfect match and the chance of success was high, he believed.

"The thought was once I got this kidney, I wouldn’t have to worry about dialysis for 20 years," he said.

Findley had a second transplant at Tufts and was able to remain off dialysis for several years before that kidney failed. The second kidney was from a non-blood relative and was not as good a match as the one from his brother, he said.

The Findleys, who have two grown children, sued Drs. Lauren Cornella, Krista Johansen and Erik Schadde, and nurse Janet A. Turgeon. Cornella practices at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Schadde practices in Missouri, Johansen teaches at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester, and Turgeon is a Tuftsnurse.

Cornella declined to comment through a Brigham spokesman.

E-mails and voice-mail messages left at work Friday for Johansen and Schadde were not returned, and a message left at Turgeon’s home was not returned.

Findley underwent his transplant the afternoon of June 25, 2003, and afterward he was transferred to the Post Anesthesia Care Unit. Between 9 p.m. and 8 a.m., the doctors and nurse were aware that his urine output had dropped dramatically, said the Findleys’ attorney, Benjamin R. Novotny, an attorney at Lubin & Meyer.

The defendants failed to properly respond to Findley’s decreased urine output overnight—a tell-tale sign the kidney was failing, Novotny said.

Novotny said an attending physician was not called in to help. A renal ultrasound was not ordered until another doctor assessed Findley at 8:15 a.m., he said. "There was a failure to follow chain of command," Novotny said. In addition, he said, three defendants were doctors in training and two were interns on the job less than a month. Schadde, the chief resident, was in his third year of residency. "It’s a case of being understaffed, having undertrained people in the middle of the night and this is what happens," Novotny said.

Hospital refutes charges

A hospital spokeswoman referred comment to Dailey, who said the PACU was adequately staffed. “The PACU was staffed by trained physicians both present in the hospital and on call, and there was communication amongst the treatment team,” Dailey said. Dailey, an attorney at Sloane & Walsh, defended the actions of the doctors and nurse that night. “Mr. Findley suffered a known complication that can occur following a kidney transplant surgery,” he said, adding that Findley suffered thrombosis, which is a blood clot in a vein. “When there‚Äôs a complication, the doctors try their best. There may not be an outcome everyone hopes for.” Novotny said there was no blood clot, citing an operative report. Mary Findley said they sued for vindication after first being told that her husband was just unlucky when the kidney failed. “We knew something went wrong,” she said. “We knew they were negligent and we just wanted them to understand what it did to Mike. We wanted them to understand how his quality of life changed because of this.”

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