Jurors hear emotional testimony from doctor in malpractice trial

David Yates Jan. 13, 2010, 7:43am

The doctor who treated the late Stacy Meaux recently testified during a malpractice trial that he could have done more to prevent her fatal heart attack.

In November 2008, the Southeast Texas Record reported on a suit filed by Meaux's mother, Mary Ann Licatino, which alleged Christus St. Mary Hospital nurses and Dr. Michael Peterson incorrectly diagnosed and treated Meaux.

Dr. Peterson settled with Meaux's family in August for more than $150,000, according to court documents. Now Christus Health Southeast Texas is defending its treatment of Meaux in a trial that began Tuesday, Jan. 12, in Jefferson County Judge Milton Shuffield's 136th District Court.

Court papers show that Meaux went to the emergency room at Christus St. Mary Hospital in Port Arthur on Oct. 2, 2007, complaining of chest pain, chest discomfort and tightness.

The triage nurses at St. Mary designated Meaux at Level 3, indicating she did not face imminent death.

According to court documents and his testimony, Dr. Peterson treated Meaux for irregular breathing and then, seeing no immediate danger to her life, discharged her.

Peterson had prescribed Captopril - a drug used to treat hypertension, heart failure and improve survival after a heart attack - and an inhalation treatment with Albuterol before discharging her at 8:15 p.m.

The next day, Meaux died of a heart attack.

"My impression at the time was that (Meax's chest pains) were not of cardiac origin," Dr. Peterson testified on Wednesday. "I just didn't think it was her heart. I had another explanation."

While she was a patient at the hospital, ER doctors performed two EKGs on Meaux.

Meaux's family claims one EKG was reported normal but the other showed a Septal Infarct abnormal EKG.

Plaintiff's attorney Clay Dugas said during opening statements that Meaux might be alive today if Christus nurses had correctly triaged her as Level 1 or 2.

During testimony, Dr. Peterson said he made the right call when he kept Meaux at Level 3.

However, the doctor did admit "he could have done things in a different manner" and perhaps saved her life. "If the nurses miss-triaged her, it was my responsibility to correct."

He went on to testify that this particular case "hit home hard," since his own mother died when he was only 16 from a heart attack that could have been prevented.

"The doctor dismissed (my mother) as an anxious housewife who had had too much (wine)," Peterson said with tears in his eyes. "I know what the family is going through."

Meaux was over 40 years old, overweight, smoked and suffered from diabetes – all conditions which the Meaux family contends Christus and Dr. Peterson failed to take into account when she was admitted.

Case history

An ambulance was dispatched to Meaux's house on Oct. 3, 2007, the day after she had been discharged from St. Mary's.

Meaux was apneic and without a pulse when the ambulance arrived, and paramedics tried to resuscitate her without success, her family claims.

According to the complaint, an autopsy confirmed that she died from acute myocardial infarction and severe atheroscierotic disease.

Meaux's family claims the nursing staff at Christus St. Mary Hospital violated nursing standards because they failed to assess Meaux's condition, failed to inquire and determine the nature of the chest pain and failed to discuss the case with the emergency room attending physician.

Nurses also failed to trigger the chain of command with a call to the nursing supervisor when no satisfactory resolution could be reached and failed to ask for orders from the ER physician for biochemical marker studies, according to the complaint.

Christus is represented in part by attorney Erin Lunceford of the Houston law firm Sprott, Rigby, Newsom, Robbins, Lunceford & Bell PC.

Case No. D182-712

More News