Malpractice suit alleges surgeon left open hole in woman's bowel

Kelly Holleran Jun. 3, 2011, 4:34am

Four Jefferson County residents have filed a malpractice suit against the doctor who they claim left an open hole in their relative's bowel, causing her to sustain fatal injuries.

Lam Pham, Lana Tran, Anna Bailey and Diep Pham claim their wife and mother, Hanh Thi Ngo, was left with a hole in her bowel following an exploratory laparotomy on March 15, 2009.

According to the complaint filed May 25 in Jefferson County District Court, defendant Dr. Jerome F. Schrapps of defendant Southeast Texas Surgical Associates performed the surgery to treat a small bowel obstruction and allowed Ngo to be discharged on March 20, 2009.

Following the surgery, Ngo began experiencing skin problems and visited Dr. Schrapps' office on April 1, 2009, to be treated for the issues, the suit states. Schrapps noted that when he shook her hand, she felt feverish, and he began instituting diagnostic tests on her, the complaint says. In addition, he resuscitated her with fluids, antibiotics and packed red blood cells, the plaintiffs claim.

"Her white blood cell count was markedly elevated at around 29,000, consistent with infection, and a CAT scan of the abdomen identified multiple abscesses and possible contrast in the abscess of the pelvis which would be suggestive of a contained perforation," the suit states. "In sum, she had a hole in her bowel from Dr. Schrapps' surgery."

Schrapps attempted to rectify the problem on April 2, 2009, through a number of interventions, including by draining her abscess and by supplementing her nutritional needs through intravenous measures.

By the time Ngo left defendant Christus Hospital St. Elizabeth, she was alert and oriented, according to the complaint. She was transferred to a long-term care facility at defendant Christus Dubuis Hospital of Beaumont where she underwent physical and occupational therapies, the complaint says.

However, Ngo's condition worsened on April 15, 2009, when her heartbeat rose to between 102 and 140 beats per minute for five days straight, the plaintiffs claim. In addition, Ngo's blood pressure began to drop and the color of her drainage began to change, according to the complaint.

Ngo returned to Christus St. Elizabeth where she was diagnosed with bleeding from an open wound and was placed on a ventilator, the suit states.

"On April 28, 2009, Mrs. Ngo was transferred to Methodist Hospital in Houston where she was diagnosed with septic shock and with multiple organ failure due to an inter-abdominal catastrophe," the complaint says. "She remained nonresponsive and on a ventilator. In consultation with a palliative care nurse practitioner, the family decided to cease heroic measures and to let Mrs. Ngo pass away."

Ngo died on May 5, 2009, the plaintiffs claim.

Because of Ngo's hospitalization, the plaintiffs incurred medical costs, according to the complaint.

Before her death, Ngo suffered physical impairment, physical pain, mental anguish and disfigurement, the suit states.

The plaintiffs lost their wife's and mother's wages, services, consortium, companionship and society; suffered mental anguish; and incurred funeral and burial expenses because of her death, the complaint says.

The plaintiffs blame Schrapps for causing Ngo's death, saying he negligently perforated her bowel during the March procedure, failed to conduct proper follow-up and failed to timely transfer Ngo to Methodist Hospital.

They also say Christus Hospital St. Elizabeth in Beaumont was negligent by failing to appreciate Ngo's diminishing condition, by failing to keep her physician informed of her deteriorating condition and by failing to sooner recommend her transfer to another hospital.

The plaintiffs are seeking actual and exemplary damages, plus pre- and post-judgment interest at the maximum rate allowed by law, costs and other relief the court deems just.

Joseph D. Terry and L. Lee Thweatt of Terry and Thweatt in Houston and Dal A. Fenton of The Law Office of Dal Fenton in Houston will be representing them.

Case No. A190-100

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