Med-mal trail against Christus heats up

David Yates Sep. 5, 2007, 9:15am

Dump-truck driver Aurilano Salas suffered from an array of life threatening aliments. When he became ill on the job back in 2001, Salas was transported to Christus Hospital St. Mary in Port Arthur and diagnosed with sepsis. Eight hours after his arrival, Salas died.

Salas' family claims he died of a preventable heart attack while in Christus' care, and will spend the next week in Judge Donald Floyd's 172nd District Court attempting to convince jurors that the hospital and its medical staff misdiagnosed their benefactor.

The medical malpractice trial of Irene Salas et al vs. Christus Health Southeast Texas et al began Tuesday, Sept. 4.

According to the plaintiffs' original petition, on Aug. 6, 2001, Aurilano Salas was in Port Arthur driving a dump truck, helping his son Rudy at a work site when he began to experience weakness, nausea, vomiting and pain radiating from his jaw to his left arm and through his back. He has transported to St. Mary Hospital and attended to by defendants Dr. Peterson, Dr. Ghyath Samman and nurse Maryann Guillory.

In the lawsuit, filed with the Jefferson County District Court on Aug. 29, 2003, Christus physicians diagnosed Salas with a respiratory infection and prescribed Tylenol for his fever and antibiotics for his sepsis.

An autopsy stated that Salas died of a heart attack.

Plaintiffs' attorney David Matthews argues the autopsy is proof Salas was misdiagnosed. While on the other hand, defense attorney Curry Cooksey argues the autopsy, performed by Dr. Tommy Brown, was "result orientated," not very technical and failed to account for Salas' previous heart condition and blocked arteries.

Either way, The Salas family asserts they warned hospital staff that Aurilano Salas suffered from a heart condition and was taking Plavix, but attending physicians and nurses ignored their admonitions.

"Despite being informed by Rudy Salas that his father had a heart condition… blocked arteries and of the name of his father's cardiologist in Lubbock, Dr. Michael Peterson diagnosed Aurilano Salas with a respiratory infection," the suit said.

In his opening remarks, Mathews said Christus nurses should have listened to the Salas family's complaints, hooked Salas up to a heart monitor and checked his blood pressure on a regular basis.

"Whether he had sepsis or not, (Aurilano Salas) had all the tell-tale signs of a heart condition," Matthews said. "It was not his time…(Aurilano) had many years left to live."

Conversely, attorney Cooksey said in his opening remarks that Dr. Peterson took all the right steps and performed a cardiac test on Salas which came back negative. "(Aurilano died from sepsis – there is not doubt about it."

Cooksey further argued that, in his view, Dr. Peterson, who is not a Christus employee, did no wrong, and Christus nurses should never be held accountable for following a doctor's orders.

"It was a reasonable diagnosis…and the nurses were not negligent for (treating him for sepsis)," he said. "Do you want to tell these nurses they should follow doctors' orders at their own peril? I sure don't want to see that."

Medical records indicated Salas' white-blood cell count was well bellow normal, clear signs his immune system was exhausted from fighting infection, Cooksey said. "His body had been fighting this infection for a while, and he was losing it. This man died of an infection that (physicians) couldn't fix."

Salas was obese and had a past history of diabetes, cancer, heart disease, stroke and hyper tension.

The plaintiffs charge the defendants with negligence and gross negligence, and allege that if Christus' medical staff had provided Salas with an ordinary standard of care, he would still be alive today.

They are suing for medical expenses, funeral expenses, pain and suffering, loss of companionship and exemplary damages.

The Salas family is represented by Houston attorney David Matthews and the Law Offices of Gilbert T. Adams.

Cooksey is an attorney for the Orgain Bell & Tucker law firm.

Case No. E170-948

More News