Widow Sues VA Saying Husband Died from Misplaced Catheter

When Gilbert Harris visited the Kansas City VA Medical Center on May 12, 2016, he was at the urology clinic, seeking medical assistance for a neurogenic bladder. The condition, linked to Harris’s multiple sclerosis, is one in which the bladder becomes overactive or underactive. The medical provider at the center removed Harris’s catheter and inserted a new one.

Harris, 52, was living in a nursing home for both his multiple sclerosis and traumatic brain injury. When Harris returned to the home after his catheter switch, he started showing signs of fever, as well as large amounts of blood clotting at the end of his penis. After an ambulance took Harris to the Nevada Regional Medical Center in Southwest Missouri, where the medical staff diagnosed him with both sepsis and an acute urinary tract infection.

A CT scan later conducted at the VA showed that Harris’s new catheter had inflated within the penile urethra, instead of within the bladder, causing the resulting trauma. Though a session in the emergency room replaced the faulty catheter, Harris suffered from septic shock. He passed away on May 16, 2016.

Bladder Infections & Sepsis

Infections can occur anywhere within the urinary tract, which includes the kidneys, ureters, bladder, and urethra. Such infections are usually the result of bacteria, and antibiotics usually serve as sufficient treatment, though it depends on the exact cause. Untreated urinary tract infections can result in more severe infections.

Sepsis is one of those more severe infections, and it has three major stages. First, the septic infection reaches the bloodstream, causing inflammation throughout the body. Severe sepsis occurs when the infection starts to affect major organs, including the brain, kidneys, and heart.

Septic shock occurs when the body has a sharp drop in blood pressure and has recognizable symptoms like high fevers and unsteady breathing. Outcomes of septic shock include strokes, respiratory, heart, or other organ failure and, as in Harris’s case, death.

A Medical Malpractice Suit Filed

Harris’s widow, Patricia has filed a lawsuit against the VA for medical malpractice as of June 1, 2018. The suit states that the medical staff’s incorrect inflation resulted in both great physical and emotional suffering for Harris, as well as loss of his company for Patricia. The case is suing for pain and suffering, financial, and emotional damages, with the amount currently unspecified.

Medical malpractice cases work by pointing out the negligent acts of a healthcare professional. Such actions can include incorrect diagnosis and improper treatment, and the healthcare professional must have performed the actions unintentionally.

Urinary tract infections are relatively common medical complications and are often due to bacteria in catheters. Much less common are infections and other injuries caused by the misplacement of a catheter. Practices like monitoring urinary output, both before and after catheter placement, can make these kinds of damages preventable. The healthcare staff who misplaced Harris’s catheter could be liable for the damages that followed the procedure.

As the case proceeds, Patricia will need to show proof that a “reasonable” doctor would have inserted the catheter correctly and how Harris’s treatment deviated from this standard through the help of an expert healthcare professional. The lawsuit will also need to prove that the resulting infections and septic shock resulted from the misplaced catheter and were not due to bacteria on the catheter or some other cause.

The Kansas City VA Medical Center has declined to make any public comments about Harris’s treatment, in accordance with their patient privacy policy. The U.S. Attorney’s Office, who handles the VA’s civil litigation cases and will be defending the hospital in the lawsuit, has also not made any public remarks about the case.