Carol Bryn went to the Medical Center of Aurora last year for back surgery that, by her daughter's account, was a great success.
But after the surgery, she experienced a life-changing head injury that was a direct result of hospital staff negligence, a lawsuit alleges. Bryn is now unable to read or complete basic tasks, like driving or working.
The lawsuit, filed in Colorado district court, details several failures by OneHealth, the company that operates the Medical Center of Aurora. Primarily, it claims staff at MCA knew Bryn was a fall risk after her back surgery, but disabled the alarm that would alert nurses if she got out of bed and failed to follow up appropriately after Bryn fell and hit her head.
In November last year, Bryn went to the hospital for lumbar fusion back surgery. Afterward, as many people would be after a fairly major back surgery, Bryn was "loopy" from pain medication and deemed a high fall risk by her doctor and various medical staff and unofficially by her daughter. She was given three nurse call buttons at her bedside and on her TV remote, but only one — the TV remote — worked. Because Bryn was fairly confused and out of it, she was also given a pressure alarm that makes loud noises if and when a patient gets out of bed.
"Some nurses find pressure alarms disruptive and annoying because of the loud noise that they emit, and as a result, some nurses intentionally disable pressure alarms for patients that regularly attempt to get out of bed without assistance," the lawsuit explains.
That's exactly what happened to Bryn, the lawsuit alleges. On the night of November 10, Bryn tried to summon a nurse with the call buttons, probably with one of the two buttons that weren't working. She got up to use the bathroom and fell and hit her head on the floor. Nurses didn't make note of the fall until after 6 a.m. the following morning — six to eight hours after the fact — and they didn't mention any head injury.
She then complained to her doctor that she had a headache. It was only then that Bryn was moved to the Intensive Care Unit. No one called her daughter, Ellory Hartnett, to tell her that her mother had fallen or that she was in the ICU, according to the lawsuit. Hartnett only found out when she talked to her mom on the phone the next day.
The fall caused a subdural hematoma, or a brain bleed, that only worsened. On November 14, Bryn underwent an emergency craniotomy, a horrifying procedure that involves a neurosurgeon sawing open a portion of the skull to relieve pressure and bleeding. Bryn also suffered several seizures, the lawsuit says.
When Hartnett finally was able to speak with a charge nurse about the incident, the nurse "admitted that the night nurse on duty the evening of November 10 had disabled (Bryn's) pressure alarm," the lawsuit says.
Now, Bryn, who is 64, suffers from blurry or double vision, regular severe migraines and is unable to read, drive or work. She also can't look at screens of any kind for longer than a few minutes and requires special glasses with tints and prisms to function normally. Formerly independent, she now will likely need everyday assistance and vocational rehabilitation for the foreseeable future.
"Had the brain bleed been any bigger, it would have killed her, because they didn't check it out. They didn't do anything about it," says Hartnett.
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HealthOne, which owns MCA, owns and operates seven other hospitals and medical centers throughout the Denver area, including Rose Medical Center, Rocky Mountain Hospital for Children, St Luke's, Spalding Rehabilitation Center and Swedish Medical Center.
"At The Medical Center of Aurora, the safety and wellbeing of our patients is our top priority. We are aware of the lawsuit filed, and while we cannot comment on anything specific regarding the patient’s concerns, we take this matter very seriously," MCA spokeswoman Laura Stephens says in a statement.
The lawsuit is seeking damages to cover economic loss now that Bryn is unable to work, non-economic loss, permanent impairment, permanent disfigurement, court costs and pre- and post-judgment interest.
“At first the hospital admitted responsibility for what happened and admitted negligence, but now they’re backing down and want to fight it in court. I’m willing to fight them, because no patient should ever be looked at as the bottom line," Bryn says in a statement.