Man says hospital's decision to remove monitor led to wife's death

By Marilyn Tennissen | Jun 26, 2007

A Hemphill man says his wife died because hospital staff did not realize her breathing tube had fallen out, a discovery made instead by the couple's 10-year-old son.

Preston Broussard filed a wrongful death, survivorship and medical malpractice suit on behalf of Dorothy Broussard, deceased, and minor child Cody Broussard on June 25 in Jefferson County District Court. Christus Hospital St. Mary, Dubuis Hospital of Port Arthur and Dr. Sreedhar Polavarapu are named as defendants.

According the plaintiffs' original petition, on April 9, 2005, the breathing tube connected to Dorothy Broussard was inadvertently removed.

"The hospital staff was not aware of the event because Mrs. Broussard's 'finger light' (heart monitor) had been removed earlier that day," the petition states. "Due to the lack of oxygen over an extended period of time (because the 'finger light' was removed, no one at the hospital was aware of the patient's plight), Mrs. Broussard fell into a coma, and passed away on July 12, 2005."

The plaintiffs claim that "defendants' failure to safely monitor and restrain Dorothy Broussard led to the deprivation of oxygen that caused Mrs. Broussard's untimely demise."

Broussard's medical saga began on Feb. 4, 2005, when she fell at her home in Sabine County. She was taken by ambulance to Hemphill Hospital and then transferred to Lufkin Memorial Heights Hospital. The petition does not state her age, but says that Broussard had a history of heart problems and anemia.

She was transferred to intensive care at Lufkin Hospital on Feb. 5, 2005, after coming down with an infection.

"She was subsequently placed on a ventilator due to insufficient blood oxygen absorption," the suit says.

On Feb. 17, 2005, Broussard was transferred to the long-term care facility on the third floor of Christus Hospital St. Mary in Port Arthur, operated by Christus and Dubuis Health System.

In March, a tracheotomy was performed to install a breathing tube. For a few days, Broussard was able to eat blended food without incident.

"However, on April 5, 2005, she was given a 'swallowing' test, which Mrs. Broussard failed. She did not have the ability to swallow her food, and it began to seep into her lungs," the petition says.

On April 6, 2005, a feeding tube was inserted into Mrs. Broussard's stomach, and the nose feeder previously inserted was removed.

Even though she was still hooked up to feeding and breathing tubes, Broussard's vital signs were good and she was responsive to family members so hospital staff scheduled Broussard to be discharged the following week.

The petition states that due to her imminent discharge, the defendants ordered the finger light monitor to be removed from Broussard's index finger.

"The heartbeat monitor was the only instant communication device hooked up between Mrs. Broussard and the nursing staff," the plaintiff argues.

Then, Preston Broussard claims, his wife suffered a cardiac incident at some time on April 9, 2005, and knocked the breathing tube out of her trachea. The incident was "unknown to the defendants or their staff."

At around 2 p.m. that day, Preston Broussard and his son Cody came to the hospital to visit.

"Plaintiff Cody Broussard, the 10-year-old son of Mrs. Broussard, ran ahead of his father into his mother's hospital room. Cody Broussard was the first person to find the oxygen tube hanging on the side of his mother's hospital bed, and found his mother gagging for air," the lawsuit states. "Mrs. Broussard had stopped breathing, and according to Cody and his father Preston, Mrs. Broussard's skin color had turned 'purple.'"

The suit says she sustained hypoxic/anoxic encephalopathy, a severe reduction of oxygen in the blood which leads to a "softening of the brain." Broussard fell into a coma and was in a vegetative state until taken off life support on July 9, 2005. She died on July 12, 2005.

Preston Broussard says his wife failed to receive proper medical care, specifically because the defendants prematurely ordered her to be discharged. That decision led to the "wrongful decision to remove the finger light, which was the only safety device in place in the event of a catastrophic incident."

In addition, the plaintiff says Broussard should have been restrained, which would have prevented her from knocking the breathing tube out of her trachea.

Preston Broussard is seeking damages for pecuniary loss, medical services, physical pain and suffering, mental pain and anguish, disfigurement, physical impairment, loss of consortium and loss of enjoyment of life.

Because the plaintiff claims the defendants' acts or omissions were performed either intentionally, knowingly, maliciously, wantonly or in utter disregard of Broussard's rights, he is also seeking punitive or exemplary damages.

Punitive damages should be in an amount "sufficient to punish the defendants for their conduct" and exemplary damages that would "serve as an example to others so they will be deterred from the same or similar acts," the suit says.

Preston Broussard is represented by John C. Osborne PLLC of Houston and is requesting a trial by jury.

The case has been assigned to Judge Donald Floyd, 172nd District Court.

Case No. E179-564

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