Woman receives award over contested surgery

Westminster resident wins nearly $2.5 million

November 25, 1999|By Gary Dorsey | Gary Dorsey,SUN STAFF

A Baltimore Circuit Court jury has awarded nearly $2.5 million to a Westminster woman who claimed that a surgeon at Mercy Medical Center failed to warn her that he would use an experimental medical procedure to treat her illness.

As a result of the procedure, Dianne Kelly required further surgery, which led to severe brain damage, the jury found.

After a seven-day trial, the jury awarded $500,000 Tuesday in lost wages to Kelly, who had been the personnel director of a Maryland collection agency. The jury also included $185,000 for her medical bills and $1.8 million to cover future medical expenses.

Because of complications from surgery, Kelly suffered brain damage, cannot speak and requires round-the-clock medical care, according to her attorney, Peter M. Rubin.

The surgeon, Luis A. Queral, is chief vascular surgeon at Mercy Medical Center's vascular center. Queral's attorney said yesterday that he and his client strongly disagree with the verdict. He would not comment on the possibility of an appeal.

In the lawsuit, Kelly's attorneys alleged that Queral did not advise her of the potential dangers from the experimental surgery. The suit initially alleged the surgeon was negligent, but that part of the complaint was dropped before the trial, Rubin said.

Queral's attorney, Robert Goodson, said that Kelly suffered brain damage several months after the original surgery -- and that those problems followed an operation by a surgeon outside Mercy.

Goodson also pointed out that negligence was never alleged at the trial. He declined to comment further.

On April 12, 1995, Kelly, then 53, met with Queral after experiencing a short episode of memory loss, according to the lawsuit filed in Baltimore Circuit Court. The doctor diagnosed subclavian steal syndrome, a condition in which a blockage in the artery beneath the collarbone reduces blood supply to the brain, and recommended surgery, the lawsuit said.

At the time, Rubin said, Queral was conducting a study of balloon angioplasty, a common procedure in heart surgery, to treat cases of subclavian steal syndrome. He said the doctor did not tell her that balloon angioplasty for her illness was an unproven treatment and that it could prove dangerous in her case.

During the trial, Rubin said, he argued that Queral had not told the patient about the risks because he wanted to include her in his study. Kelly would not have agreed to the surgery, Rubin said, because it increased her risk of stroke, the cause of her mother's death a few years before her own problems emerged.

The surgery, performed April 20, 1995, was not successful, the lawsuit said. Rubin said Kelly needed corrective surgery to repair damage left after the angioplasty. She underwent two more surgeries by Dr. Melville Williams, a vascular surgeon at Johns Hopkins Hospital, in July 1995 and January 1996, the lawsuit said.

During, or within hours of, the January surgery at Hopkins, Kelly suffered massive brain damage, the complaint said. Though the brain damage occurred at that time, Kelly's attorneys said, the Hopkins operations were necessary only because Queral's surgery had been unsuccessful.

Had Queral told Kelly about the dangers of angioplasty in her case, Rubin said, she wouldn't have chosen the procedure, and the follow-up surgeries wouldn't have been needed.

"Because this is such a fragile artery," Rubin said, "the first time you go in and do surgery, you do real trauma to it. If it's not successful the first time, you set the patient up for failure with subsequent procedures. Because the artery was in bad shape when Dr. Williams went back, chances for complications were greatly increased."

Pub Date: 11/25/99

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