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Family: Death from drug allergy was preventable
November 29, 2007 6:52 PM
The family of a Temple Hills woman who suffocated after receiving an antibiotic at a Kaiser Permanente facility has filed a claim against her doctor and health plan, alleging they failed to recognize and treat her allergic reaction to the drug.

According to the filing, Laverne Williams, 54, had trouble breathing immediately after receiving intravenous Rocephin at Kaiser’s Camp Springs Medical Center.

“You don’t go to Kaiser to die,” said Christian A. Lodowski, the plaintiffs’ lawyer. “Mrs. Williams relied upon the wrong people to do the right thing. Kaiser just blew it.”

Williams, a retired federal government worker, sought treatment for urinary tract problems at the center on the evening of Dec. 11, 2006.

According to the claim filed this week with the Health Care Alternative Dispute Resolution Office, Dr. Sharada Jain prescribed the intravenous Rocephin.

When Williams became unresponsive, Jain and the nurses stopped the intravenous drug and administered oxygen therapy, then cardio-pulmonary resuscitation and automated external defibrillation, according to medical records.

But they never gave her epinephrine, “the definitive treatment” for anaphylaxis, which they should have had close at hand, the claim states.

“Sadly, over the next several minutes the Health Care Providers stood by while Decedent suffocated and became brain dead right before them,” the claim says.

Lodowski said the case is the worst his medical expert has seen in 20 years.

“For that doctor to not think and do something is just so far below the standard,” Lodowski said.

Lodowski is representing Williams’ husband and two adult children in the claim against Jain, a family practitioner, and the Kaiser Foundation Health Plan of the Mid-Atlantic States Inc., the nonprofit health plan component of Kaiser Permanente.

Lodowski said he plans to waive arbitration and file the claim as a lawsuit in Prince George’s County Circuit Court next week.

Amy Goodwin, a spokeswoman for Kaiser Permanente, said the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act prevents her from speaking about the specifics of the incident.

“This is an unforeseeable event,” Goodwin said. “We would like to comment on the medical facts of this claim but we are prohibited by federal privacy regulations. When the truth comes out in the court of law, it will show that we delivered excellent care.”

Williams had been given Rocephin during previous visits to the facility and had no known allergies, according to the medical records. But reactions can occur on second or third exposure, Lodowski said.

“You have to take patients as they come,” he said.

Williams had emphysema from years of smoking as well as other serious medical issues, according to the medical records, but Lodowski said her allergic reaction affected her throat area, not her lungs.

Within minutes of Williams’ first complaint of burning in her mouth, she was “gasping” and became “cold and clammy,” according to the medical records. After calling 911, Jain and her staff continued with resuscitation efforts.

Williams was transported by ambulance to Southern Maryland Hospital in Clinton where she was declared brain dead and died soon thereafter, the claim states. The ambulance report shows Williams received epinephrine en route, Lodowski said.

Had she received the shot of epinephrine earlier, she would have survived, Lodowski said.

“She would have recovered and awakened,” he said. “[Epinephrine’s] success is so overwhelmingly high. Remember, in law I only need 51 percent, and this is 99 to 100 percent.”