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Medical negligence exposes patients to dangerous brain disease

In Louisiana patients could sometimes endure risks when it comes to medical treatment and procedures. Medical malpractice is a wrongful act or omission by a medical practitioner below standard of practice. This can result in the patient's injury or death. Medical malpractice can be fatal surgical errors, surgical equipment left inside a patient, wrong-site surgery, organ damage and burn injury, which often results in a lawsuit. Recently, in North Carolina, 18 neurosurgery patients were possibly exposed to a terminal brain disorder because the instruments used were not properly sterilized.

Novant Health Forsyth Medical Center in Winston-Salem was treating a patient with Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. The instruments, although sterilized, were not put through "extra measures" as safeguards after surgery. Doctors from Novant have apologized and stated that the risk is very low. However, they admit that extra precautions should have been taken.

Annually, in the U.S., there are from 200 to 300, 20% of whom are genetically prone. Identifying the disease is difficult, and once symptoms appear, the patient typically dies within six months. The disease causes difficulty in motor movements, memory and eyesight.

Sadly, this was not the first incident of its kind. Last year, four patients contracted the ailment through medical instruments that were not sterilized appropriately. Sometimes, hospitals fail to recognize the symptoms in the initial patient on whom the instrument had been used. They were detected only after an autopsy.

The surgical equipment must be rinsed with potent chemicals and heated or be destroyed. The disease is not transmitted through casual contact but contact with infected brain tissue or spinal cord fluid is hazardous. Also, latent carriers of the disease cannot donate blood or organs.

A claim for medical malpractice must include failure to provide an appropriate standard of care that causes an injury with a harmful consequence, and in some cases, involves the absence of informed consent by the patient.

Pecuniary damages awarded to a victim of medical malpractice are proportionate to the losses suffered. Punitive damages are awarded in extreme cases to prevent others from doing the same thing. Most states oppose the notion of punitive damages because punishment is an inherently criminal concept. However, some states have specific statutes that sanction punitive damages. Residents of Louisiana who have had a similar experience may wish to seek the advice of a legal professional to address his or her options.

Source: Los Angeles Times, "Hospital error may put patients at risk of incurable disease," Paresh Dave, Feb. 12, 2014

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