Heart Surgery Malpractice

Having any surgery on the heart is a hazardous procedure. Many people undergo this surgery successfully, but there are a few who experience severe complications. Heart surgeries are the most common type of operations where mistakes occur.

The errors caused by surgeons and the medical team may lead to complications for the patient that could otherwise have been avoided. In some cases, the patient can even die from these errors. When a patient becomes a victim of a mistake during a heart operation, it is crucial to understand more about the serious injury.

Common Surgical Errors

Many people undergo surgery in their hearts. However, there is a small percentage of these people who suffer from mistakes that the surgeon, doctor, or other members of the medical team make. Wrong diagnosis or a cut in the wrong location can cause the patient a severe injury, disability, or even death.

When this mistake has been caused because of negligence on the part of the medical team, the patient may be able to sue the medical professional for malpractice.

Because of how vital perfect precision is in any heart surgery, heart surgeons are uniquely trained to operate correctly. However, surgeons may make mistakes. A few of the mistakes surgeons may make include errors in angioplasty, problems with cardiac ablation, misdiagnosis, and errors with coronary artery bypass surgery.

Angioplasty Errors

Balloon angioplasty is a surgical procedure that can help treat several problems in the patient. These health problems include coronary artery disease, atherosclerosis, angina, and acute myocardial infarctions, or heart attacks. This type of procedure is considered a routine procedure, and it is performed often. 

However, it comes with risks. Up to 16 percent of people who undergo this type of procedure can experience serious complications, and some of these complications can be severely life-changing. About 3 percent of patients who undergo this procedure do not survive it.

How Does an Angioplasty Work?

Before the angioplasty was invented, patients often had to undergo open-heart surgeries to treat problems such as coronary artery disease, heart attacks, and angina. These open-heart surgeries were both risky and invasive. However, after the angioplasty was invented in the 1970s, patients had an alternative to risky procedures. 

With the balloon angioplasty, doctors can insert a small, inflated balloon catheter into the patient’s artery in the arm, leg, or groin area. The location of the insertion depends on where the blockage is located in the patient’s body. While doctors are inserting this inflated balloon into the artery, they will inject radiographic dye into the blockage so they can better guide the catheter into the artery.

After the doctors have inserted the balloon catheter into the artery, they will then inflate it. This compresses the plaque so the artery can be cleared, and the patient’s normal blood flow can continue.

Sometimes, doctors will use this technique to place a wire stent in the artery after they have cleared the plaque from it. This will discourage more plaque from building up in the artery in the future, preventing the need for another angioplasty procedure. This wire stent may sometimes be treated with a medication that will discourage any future blockage of plaque from forming in the area.

Problems Resulting From Angioplasty

Even though many patients have this procedure, it can still result in a few complications that are sometimes severe. Sometimes the doctors and patients become complacent when they know a procedure is considered routine and that many patients have successfully had it in the past. Complications that can happen:

  • Blood Clots: Sometimes, blood clots will form at the site of the surgery, putting the patient at risk for a heart attack in the future.
  • Kidney Problems: Sometimes, the radioactive dye can cause the kidneys either to be damaged or to fail.
  • Bleeding: The site of the surgery may continue to bleed. The patient may also be at risk for internal bleeding where the surgery was done.
  • Coronary Artery Damage: Sometimes, this procedure can damage coronary arteries.
  • Overinflating the Balloon Catheter: This can result in the patient having a permanent injury after the procedure has been finished.
  • Release of Plaque: If the surgeon releases the plaque into the surrounding arteries, the patient may have a permanent disability after the procedure.
  • Other Complications: The patient may also have other complications after the surgery, including a stroke, embolism, recurring stenosis, or a heart attack.

When patients suffer from any of these problems after having a routine angioplasty, they may require many more procedures and treatments to fix the complications.

Cardiac Ablation Errors

When patients suffer from arrhythmias or irregular heart rhythm, doctors may recommend for them to undergo a cardiac ablation procedure.

How Does a Cardiac Ablation Work?

During the procedure, the doctor will insert a needle into a vein in the arm, neck, or groin. The doctor can then place a sheath through the needle. The doctor can then use the sheath in the needle to guide catheters through the veins of the patient to the patient’s heart. Similarly to an angioplasty, doctors may choose to inject a dye into the catheter. They can then use an X-ray with this dye to help them see the blood vessels and the patient’s heart, which will help them better guide the catheter into the patient’s vein.

The catheter that the doctor guides to the patient’s heart has electrodes on the tips. This allows the doctors to monitor the patient’s heart and to send electrical impulses to the heart. These electrical impulses may consist of radiofrequency, which is heat; cryoablation, which is extreme cold; or lasers. The type of electric pulse will depend on the patient’s specific condition.

After the catheters are near the heart, the doctor will identify the abnormal tissue that has been causing the irregular heart rhythm. The doctor will aim the catheter with the electrodes on the tips at the abnormal heart tissue and send electrical impulses through the tips. Depending on the doctor’s goals, these electrical impulses will either scar or destroy this damaged heart tissue.

Sometimes, doctors will not destroy the abnormal heart tissue. In this case, the doctor will block the electrical signals that travel through the heart. This blocking will stop the irregular rhythm of the heart and will allow the signals to travel the way they are supposed to.

The entire procedure will generally take a total of about three to six hours, although, in some patients, it may take longer.

Problems Resulting From Cardiac Ablation

This procedure does carry a risk of some severe complications.

  • Blood Vessel Damage: As the catheter travels from the insertion point to the heart, there is a risk that it may damage the blood vessel along the way, especially if the doctor is not cautious enough.
  • Electrical System Damage: There is a risk that the electrical impulses from the electrodes at the tips of the catheters will damage the electrical system of the heart. This could end up worsening the patient’s irregular heart rhythm instead of making it better.
  • Heart Puncture: The doctor may end up puncturing the heart with the tip of the catheter. There is also a possibility of damaging the heart valve.
  • Burnt Tissue: Because the doctor is mostly burning away the abnormal tissue in the patient’s heart, there is a risk that the healthy tissue around the area will also be burnt.
  • Blood Clots: After a patient has a cardiac ablation procedure, blood clots may form in the patient’s legs. These blood clots can break off and travel to the lungs, which is known as a pulmonary embolism.
  • Kidney Damage: The dye that the doctor may choose to inject may end up causing damage to the patient’s kidneys.
  • Infection: The site of the catheter insertion can become infected, especially if the doctor does not prescribe the patient the proper antibiotics after the procedure.
  • Other Complications: Patients who undergo a cardiac ablation procedure may also be at risk for heart attacks and stroke. 

In extremely rare cases, this procedure can even result in the death of the patient. Many of these complications could be avoided if the medical professionals involved took proper precautions.

Coronary Artery Bypass Errors

When an artery in the heart is choked or partly blocked, a doctor may recommend coronary artery bypass surgery. This will improve the flow of blood to the heart muscle. While this surgery will not cure the problem in the heart muscle, it can help the patient’s symptoms, such as shortness of breath and chest pain.

How Does Coronary Artery Bypass Work?

The surgery requires the patient to be under anesthesia, which is one way that errors may occur during the surgery. A breathing tube is inserted and hooked up to a ventilator, which will be used during and right after the surgery. The patient is also hooked up to a heart-lung machine, which will work to keep the blood and oxygen of the patient flowing throughout the body.

After the patient has been sedated, the surgeon will cut the patient down the center of his or her chest along the bone. The surgeon will spread the two halves of the rib cage apart, which will allow the medical team to work on the heart.

The team will use medication to stop the heart. This is when the heart-lung machine will begin working to keep the patient’s blood and oxygen flowing throughout his or her body.

During the surgery itself, the surgeon will work to take a healthy blood vessel from elsewhere in the body and place it both above and below the artery that is blocked in the heart. This will allow the blood to flow around the blocked artery and through the healthy blood vessels.

After the surgeon has completed the blood vessel graft, he or she will make the heart start beating again and disconnect the patient from the heart-lung machine. The surgeon and medical team will use wire to help in closing the two halves of the chest cavity. This wire will stay in the body even after the bones have healed.

There are a few other ways a surgeon may perform this surgery as well. For example, instead of opening the entire chest cavity, the surgeon may only make small incisions in the chest wall. Often, the surgeon will use robotics or video images to see the area better and make more accurate incisions. This allows the patient to recover faster after the procedure. This may also be known as keyhole surgery.

Another procedure that the surgeon may perform is an operation while the patient’s heart is still beating. In this procedure, the patient’s heart is not stopped with the use of medication. Instead, the surgeon will use specialized equipment that will allow the area that the surgeon is working on to be stabilized.

Problems Resulting From Coronary Artery Bypass Surgery

It is usually unlikely that patients will experience complications after coronary artery bypass surgery. However, there are a few complications that patients may experience. Some of them are normal, and some can be caused by malpractice on the medical team’s part.

  • Memory Problems: Sometimes, patients may experience problems thinking clearly or remembering certain things. Generally, this will improve within six to 12 months after the surgery has taken place.
  • Heart Attack: Sometimes, a blood clot will break loose soon after the surgery, causing a heart attack in the patient. Doctors should monitor their patients carefully and prescribe the proper medications to lessen this risk.
  • Arrhythmias: The heart may not regularly beat for some time after the surgery.
  • Infections: In some cases, the wound at the surgical site can become infected. Doctors should be prescribing patients the proper antibiotics within the right amount of time after the surgery has taken place.

Normal Results

In most patients, this open-heart surgery will result in people feeling better and experiencing fewer undesirable symptoms. However, in a few people, other arteries in the heart may become clogged, and in some cases, even the new graft will become clogged. 

This may happen after about 10 to 15 years after the open-heart surgery. These symptoms may require angioplasty or even another coronary artery bypass surgery. Unfortunately, this is normal for people who have undergone the procedure. It is not a case of malpractice on the medical team’s part. 

Misdiagnosis of Heart Condition

Cases of the wrong diagnosis of heart conditions make up a large percentage of malpractice lawsuits. These types of cases make up a quarter of all malpractice cases that are filed. Both a delayed diagnosis and a wrong diagnosis are part of these types of cases.

In a delayed diagnosis case, the plaintiff testifies that the doctor did not diagnose their condition in time, leading to severe problems later. These types of cases have made up such a large part of malpractice cases that organizations such as insurance companies have created guidelines for the screening and treatments of certain diseases and conditions. By strictly following these guidelines, doctors can protect themselves from legal action against them later on.

Sometimes, a doctor will diagnose an individual with the wrong condition. This happens when the doctor examines the patient but forms the wrong conclusion about that patient’s condition. For example, sometimes patients will go to the emergency room with the signs of a heart attack, but the staff will dismiss that patient as having a more harmless condition. 

Another example of a wrong diagnosis would be if the doctor concluded that because the patient was having chest pain, the patient was suffering from angina. The doctor may recommend and carry out an angioplasty procedure for this, which can cause some serious complications for the patient. The patient may then decide to sue the doctor for malpractice because of the incorrect diagnosis.

With all misdiagnosis cases, a patient can sue the health care provider if three conditions are met:

  • The patient files the lawsuit within the state’s statute of limitations, which can often be extremely short.
  • A medical expert will testify that the improper diagnosis caused a worse injury than if the patient had been diagnosed correctly by the doctor.
  • The medical expert will testify that the doctor was negligent by not diagnosing the patient correctly the first time.

State laws will vary, so patients need to consult with medical malpractice lawyers with extensive experience to determine if their cases qualify as medical malpractice.

Is It Malpractice?

Not every complication that results from an operation on the heart is the result of malpractice. Sometimes patients do not respond to treatment the way they are expected to. This is true even with the most highly trained doctors, nurses, and technicians.

The same procedure will not always lead to the same results in patients. Variables such as the patient’s existing health, other health conditions, and the variety of health conditions can be all factors to the success of the heart operation.

However, sometimes, these medical professionals do make mistakes. The patient must be able to show either that the doctor or other medical professionals did not deliver the appropriate standard of care, or that they were acting irresponsibly. When a patient can prove there was negligence on the part of the physicians, he or she will have a better medical malpractice claim. The case will be considered malpractice if this irresponsibility led to serious harm for the patient.

Errors That Can Result Because of Malpractice

There are a few common errors that medical professionals may make when they are doing an angioplasty.

  • Giving the patient the wrong amount of anesthesia. If the patient does not have enough anesthesia, he or she may feel an excessive amount of pain. If the anesthesiologist gives the patient too much anesthesia, the patient may never wake up again.
  • Causing damage to the surrounding tissue during the procedure. During the procedure, the doctor may be careless and cause damage to the blood vessels or other organs around the surgical site. This can cause serious complications later.
  • Failure to monitor the patient accurately. If the patient is suffering from other health conditions, the doctor may not notice this until after the procedure has taken place and serious complications result. Failure to monitor the patient accurately after the operation has been done can cause the doctor not to notice complications in the patient.
  • Causing errors with the medication. Another example of medical negligence is failing to give the patient the correct prescription of medication after the surgery. Prescribing the medicine with the wrong dosage or at the wrong time is another example of malpractice.
  • Not following up with the patient. When a doctor fails to follow up with a patient, and this results in untreated complications, the patient may have a medical malpractice case.
  • Performing a procedure on a patient who does not need the procedure. Doctors should always thoroughly examine patients before recommending any procedure to them to determine if the patients need the procedure.
  • Failure to properly remove devices after the procedure. When leads are used in heart surgeries, there is a possibility that the leads will not be removed entirely or adequately. This can result in permanent damage to the heart that will require further procedures. Leaving foreign objects in the patient’s body is one example of malpractice in the medical field.
  • Using defective leads or other devices. Every time a doctor performs surgery on the heart or another procedure on a patient, he or she is responsible for choosing quality equipment and devices from reputable manufacturers.

Wrongful Death and Malpractice

Sometimes the errors that doctors make during an operation on the heart are so severe that the patient dies. In this case, a loved one or a family member may be able to sue for the death of the patient. Because state laws can vary, it is essential for loved ones of the deceased to learn about the medical malpractice laws in the state where the negligence took place. 

The statute of limitations can vary depending on what state this medical malpractice happened, so it is vital for family members who want to file malpractice suits to speak with medical malpractice attorneys as soon as possible.

Filing a malpractice suit can allow the deceased patient’s loved ones to receive compensation for damages such as expenses from the funeral, lost financial support from the dead patient, the pain and suffering the patient had experienced, and other damages, depending on the case. The exact compensation that family members and loved ones will be able to receive vary from state to state.

Informed Consent and Malpractice

Many medical facilities require their patients to complete and sign an informed consent form before any surgery on the heart or other procedures. However, signing an informed consent form does not protect the medical facility or medical professional from a lawsuit if there was malpractice involved in the case. If there were negligence involved that led to damages, the informed consent form would not release the medical facility and professionals from liability.

Filing a Medical Malpractice Lawsuit

Before an individual work to file a lawsuit against the medical professionals or medical facility, he or she should meet with malpractice lawyers. The lawyers will do a case evaluation to determine whether malpractice took place.

It can be challenging to file a medical malpractice lawsuit. The laws generally make it difficult compared to other non-medical lawsuits. There are a few reasons why medical malpractice cases are usually harder.

  • Pre-Lawsuit Requirements: Before a lawsuit can be filed, there are several requirements the plaintiff must meet. While these can vary by state, they can include settlement negotiations, a notice of the lawsuit, or an affidavit of merit. 
  • Damages Cap: Many states put a cap on the total compensation the plaintiff can get from the medical professional. 
  • Expert Witnesses: Both the plaintiff and the defendant must be able to gather medical witnesses to testify in the case. For example, the plaintiff must be able to produce a medical professional in the same field to prove what the proper amount of care would have been for the patient and that the defendant did not meet this standard.

Many states also put a short statute of limitations when the plaintiff will need to start their case. Sometimes the state’s statute of limitations and the medical malpractice statute of limitations conflict. If this is the case, many judges will go with the medical malpractice statute of limitations, which may be shorter than the state.

After these requirements have been met, the plaintiff will need to prove that the personal injury or death occurred because the medical provider did not live up to the standard of care. Medical professionals will need to provide the medical records of the injured party.

Finally, the plaintiff will need to establish the damages to the injured or deceased. Many factors go into determining the amount of damages from malpractice. The main factor that goes into this is the financial loss to the family from the death or injury of the patient.

Wrongful Death

In a case where the patient died because of malpractice, the jury verdict for compensation will depend on the deceased patient’s remaining lifespan, any unique capabilities, and both good and bad habits of the dead patient. Depending on the state, some may consider the loss of companionship, damages for suffering or pain the individual endured, and mental damages.

There are a few factors that individuals will need to consider when filing for this type of case. These include: 

  • Who can file this claim for the deceased individual
  • How the person will be able to represent the estate
  • The damages that the deceased’s estate is eligible to receive 

These factors will vary from state to state, depending on the local laws. Excellent malpractice lawyers can help individuals figure out these problematic variables.

Picking the Representative 

For example, the closest surviving relative is the one who is eligible to file a claim for the deceased patient. This may be a relative such as a spouse, a grown child, or even a parent. Sometimes multiple surviving relatives would be eligible to file a case on behalf of a deceased individual’s estate. For example, the deceased may have two or more adult children who can pursue the case. In this situation, the family members will decide among themselves who will represent the estate. The chosen individual will be responsible for controlling the lawsuit and settling the lawsuit in the end.

However, in some cases, these surviving family members are not on speaking terms with each other. If the surviving family members are fighting over who should be the one to act on behalf of the estate, the courts will have to settle this dispute.

Being Appointed as the Representative

The person who will be representing the deceased’s estate will have to be appointed by the court system. The court that appoints this individual is usually the probate court. Before filing the case, the representative will have to notify all parties who may be interested. These include all relatives and other people that the deceased may have given financial support. If none of these interested parties objects to the representative, that person will be appointed by the court.

Damages the Estate May Receive

The damages that the estate and the family may receive will vary depending on state laws. A law firm will be able to help sort out what types of damages will be allowed in the individual’s case. However, even though allowable damages vary across the states, there are a few damages that nearly all these types of cases will be eligible for:

  • Funeral expenses
  • Burial expenses
  • Medical expenses
  • Loss of consortium, or loss of companionship 
  • Loss of support, as long as the plaintiff can prove that the deceased supported them financially 

Depending on the exact cause of death, the family members may be eligible for additional damages as well.

Closing Thoughts

Any surgery on the heart is a risky procedure, even if the doctors and the medical facility do everything they can to provide a high quality of care. However, even trained medical professionals can make mistakes when providing this type of care. When this happens, and it can be proven that the medical staff was being negligent, the patient or the relatives can sue for malpractice. It is crucial for an individual who believes they are victims of medical malpractice to talk to an experienced medical attorney about their options.