Failure To Diagnose Bacterial Meningitis Led to Death of High School Student

October 16, 2012
By Mark A. Kaire on October 16, 2012 6:11 PM |

As a Miami Medical Malpractice lawyer, I have reviewed a lot of cases where bad things happen to good people. The case of Christopher Valdez fits into that category.

The most common error in the emergency room is a "failure to diagnose". The consequences of a failure to diagnose are often catastrophic. The story of Christopher Valdez is gut wrenching. My condolences to Christopher's family.

Last thursday, Christopher, an 18 year old student at Coral Reef High School felt ill. As reported by the Miami Herald, Christopher had a headache and had thrown up twice. By later that evening he was feeling worse and his father did the right thing, he took him to the an urgent care facility at Baptist Medical Plaza.

Labs were drawn and the results documented Chris' white blood cells were low, his sodium level was high, and his blood pressure was low.

Incredibly enough Mr. Valdez was familiar with the signs of meningitis and he urged the doctor to "please do whatever checks you have for meningitis". The doctor chose not to, and diagnosed him with the flu.

Christopher was discharged home with prescriptions for ibuprofen, and was instructed to seek more medical attention if conditions worsened.(The typical discharge instruction).

Mr Valdez stopped to get his son a bowl of chicken soup, and then headed home. At approximately 5:00 a.m., Christopher woke up his father and complained of a rash and feeling awful. They rushed to the emergency room at Jackson Memorial Hospital South, where sadly Christopher passed away.

Bacterial meningitis can easily be mistaken for flu, and that makes the diagnosis difficult. However, the golden rule of medicine is to reach a differential diagnosis and to rule out the most severe symptoms first. The doctor at Baptist Urgent care did the opposite, he treated the least severe symptom and ignored a father's requests.

The signs and symptoms of Meningitis may develop over several hours or over one or two days and, in anyone over the age of 2, typically include:

High fever
Severe headache
Stiff neck
Vomiting or nausea with headache
Confusion or difficulty concentrating
Seizures
Sleepiness or difficulty waking up
Sensitivity to light
Lack of interest in drinking and eating
Skin rash in some cases, such as in viral or meningococcal meningitis

The only way to reach a diagnosis is with a spinal tap. A procedure the doctor in this case never ordered. Bacterial meningitis is treated with antibiotics. Again, something the doctor in this case never prescribed.

As a stated at the beginning of this article, the most common errors in the emergency room are for failure to diagnose. There is no question the doctor did that here. The question is whether that was below the standard of care, and whether more likely than not antibiotic treatment at the time of discharge would have saved Christopher's life. In the event Christopher's family elects to proceed with a medical malpractice case, the medical malpractice attorney they hire will retain an emergency medicine specialist, infectious disease specialist, and a critical care specialist. That group of doctors will provide affidavit's and testimony that the doctor at Baptist fell below the standard of care, and had he acted within the standard of care, Christopher would be alive today.

Again, my deepest condolences to the Valdez family.

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