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Patient allergic to morphine dies after being given morphine

Published on August 27th, 2008

The Post-Tribune had an article written by Mark Taylor about the negligent care provided to a resident in a hospital.  The article described the resident, Donna Durham, as an active, energetic widow with sparkling green eyes and silver hair who worked as a top real estate agent and home appraiser until June 12, the day she arrived at  the hospital for surgery. 

Prior to the surgery, the Dunham family had apprised hospital staff of their mother’s allergy to codeine and morphine.  It was entered in her medical chart.  It was identified on the red tag she wore on her wrist. And in the final presurgery meeting with physicians, Dunham’s children say they reminded anesthesiologist Dr. Nageswar Yelavarthi that their mother was allergic to morphine.

In spite of those warnings he allegedly ordered a nurse to administer the potent narcotic to which Dunham was allergic, according to Pinnacle medical records obtained by Dunham family attorney George Galanos. Yelavarthi allegedly told the nurse that he and the staff could deal with the expected allergic reactions, such as nausea and vomiting, a nurse’s note states.

By 12:08 p.m., Dunham was in respiratory arrest and having difficulty breathing.  Medical records indicate Pinnacle staff attempted to stabilize Dunham and around 12:30 p.m. began attempts to transfer her to an acute-care hospital. 

Dunham’s doctor, Dr. Kucharzyk,  did not complete a spine fellowship and does not have the additional training required to perform spinal procedures.  According to the Patient Compensation Fund of the Indiana Department of Insurance, Kucharzyk has been named in at least 14 medical malpractice lawsuits.  Kucharzyk never disclosed this information to the family.

Nonetheless, Kucharzyk held surgical privileges in back surgery at Pinnacle.

After Dunham went into respiratory distress at 12:08 pm., Pinnacle staff connected her to a ventilator to breathe for her.   Anesthesiologist Yelavarthi gave her an antidote to the morphine, but it didn’t work.

Kucharzyk was enlisted to attempt to transfer Dunham to Methodist or Saint Anthony. But he said he did not hold full privileges at Methodist or Saint Anthony and wasn’t successful in arranging a transfer. Kucharzyk soon after told Pinnacle staff, “He would not be following the patient,” according to Dunham’s medical records.

Khalid contacted Methodist to alert staff there about Dunham’s condition and the sequence of events, and at 1:01 p.m. Superior Ambulance arrived at Pinnacle to transport Dunham to Methodist.  Again at 1:20 p.m., Pinnacle staff contacted Methodist and were told that Methodist could not accept Dunham until case management reviewed her insurance “to make sure she was not a (patient) ‘dump’,” hospital slang for a patient unable to pay, according to Pinnacle records.

Patient dumping is when a hospital transfers a patient to another health-care facility because of the person’s inability to pay. It’s a practice that is illegal, as is delaying care while considering payment or insurance information.

The Pinnacle staff continued working on Dunham even as they attempted to transfer her to Methodist, a hospital with an intensive-care unit better equipped to handle such emergencies.

Finally at 2:30 p.m., nearly 150 minutes after Dunham had gone into respiratory distress, Superior transported her to Methodist.  Dunham arrived at Methodist still in distress and deteriorated rapidly.

Methodist’s ER staff worked on her until 3:30 p.m., when she was pronounced dead of heart failure.  A Methodist ER nurse asked the family if Pinnacle ever explained their mother’s condition when it transferred her.

Cheryl Harrell said Kucharzyk phoned that evening.   “He asked what happened and acted like he didn’t know anything had gone wrong,” she said. “He said when he left she was fine.”


Joe Pioletti
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