When Alice L. Bower went to the Upper Chesapeake Medical Center's emergency room last April, the 32-year-old mother of four complained of abdominal pain that the staff of the Bel Air hospital diagnosed as a benign ovarian cyst, court documents show.
Five days later, Bowers died.
In a lawsuit filed yesterday in Harford County Circuit Court, a lawyer for Bower's four children contends that she died after receiving an excessive dosage of a powerful pain medication. The medical malpractice suit seeks at least $2 million from Upper Chesapeake Health System Inc., the doctor who oversaw Bower's care and the medical provider that employs the physician.
"They overdosed her," said lawyer David Ellin, who filed the suit. "And it's not just that they gave her the wrong medication. They failed to monitor her. It was negligence compounded by negligence."
Medical center spokeswoman Kim Lovett said in a written statement, "Though it is not our practice to comment on ongoing litigation, Upper Chesapeake Health aims to provide the highest quality of care to all of our patients and our community."
Bower, a single mother from Havre de Grace who had taken time off from her job as a waitress to care for her terminally ill father, went to Upper Chesapeake April 1 with abdominal pain, vaginal spotting and vomiting. Hospital staff treated her with Toradol, an anti-inflammatory pain reliever, and Dilaudid, a narcotic that is used to treat pain and that is eight times stronger than morphine, according to the lawsuit.
After receiving 1 milligram of Dilaudid, Bower's pain subsided enough that hospital staff could perform an ultrasound, revealing the cyst, according to the lawsuit. Bower was discharged.
The next day, however, Bower returned to the emergency room, again in pain. The hospital's medical staff scheduled her for surgery and set about treating her pain until the operation, according to the lawsuit.
Between 3:30 p.m. on April 2 and 8:55 a.m. on April 3, Bower was given 4 milligrams of Dilaudid intravenously on each of three occasions, according to the lawsuit. After the last dose, Bower went into respiratory arrest and suffered brain swelling that led to a coma from which she never recovered, the lawsuit alleges. She died April 6 at Johns Hopkins Hospital.
Bower's death has left her children dispersed among her sister, mother-in-law and the Department of Social Services.
"We need to prevent another family from going through what we're going through," said Madge Duncan, Bower's sister who is now the legal guardian of the two youngest children.
"It's not just about the money," Duncan said as she wept. "We need to make an example of my sister. This could happen to you, your mother, your father. It happened to us, and it's not an easy thing to go through."