5 Surgery Errors That Can Lead to a Coma January 25, 2024.

5 Surgery Errors That Can Lead to a Coma

Seeing a loved one fall into a coma or a vegetative state due to negligence is truly devastating. The unknown is terrifying, not knowing if or when your loved one will wake up after an error during surgery. Going into a coma during a medical procedure is largely preventable. Sadly, this doesn't mean that these cases don't happen. Due to extreme negligence by some medical professionals, there is a risk of patients going into a coma during surgery if they are not correctly monitored. The Cleveland Clinic estimates that each year there are around 250 new comas per 100,000 people between the United States and the United Kingdom’s population. 

What is a Coma?

A coma is a state in which a person is unconscious and does not respond to stimuli. It is a very serious medical emergency that can be caused by a traumatic brain injury, illness, overdose, or errors during surgery. 

Symptoms of a coma include:

  • Being in a sleep-like state/ unconscious
  • Won’t wake up 
  • Irregular breathing
  • No response to stimuli

Comas can be short, lasting only a few minutes, or long, lasting 4 weeks. If the coma lasts longer than 4 weeks then it is categorized as a vegetative state.

The Difference Between a Coma and a Vegetative State

Unlike a coma, where the patient is unconscious, people in vegetative states are minimally conscious. The patient is considered to be “out” of the coma, but their brain activity and function are very limited.

The two types of vegetative states include:

  • Persistent vegetative state
  • Permanent vegetative state

Persistent Vegetative State

After being in a coma for four weeks without recovery, the patient is considered to be in a persistent vegetative state. At this point, the patient has a sleep and wake cycle, opens their eyes, moves, and may even smile. Even though they do these actions, they are not aware of their surroundings.

Full recovery from a vegetative state is unlikely, but not impossible. The chance of recovery depends on many factors such as age, health before the injury, and how severe the injury was. Generally, adults have a 50% chance of coming out of a vegetative state, while children have a 60% chance. Even after coming out of the vegetative state, the patient would have to undergo extensive rehabilitation to help them speak, walk, and care for themselves again.

Permanent Vegetative State

A person is considered to be in a permanent vegetative state if they have been in a vegetative state for 6 months or more. Similar to a persistent vegetative state, the patient may open their eyes and move, but they still completely lack awareness of their surroundings. In these cases, unfortunately, it is very rare for patients to recover. 

Five Surgery Errors That Can Lead to a Coma

During surgery is it imperative that medical professionals closely monitor the patient while they are under anesthesia. If they don’t watch closely for changes in the patient's health, then the patient could suffer serious brain damage.

Anesthesia Errors

Anesthesia errors during surgery are generally preventable with proper monitoring and correct dosage calculations. Anesthesiologists have to make calculations on how much anesthesia to give a patient during a procedure. For instance, a 25-year-old, 200-pound man will not get the same anesthesia dosage as a 40-year-old, 130-pound female. 

These calculations are based on factors including:

  • Age
  • How long the surgery will take
  • Weight
  • How painful the surgery is

If an anesthesiologist calculates the dosage wrong, it is very dangerous for the patient. Too much anesthesia can cause significant organ damage, which can lead to a coma or vegetative state. 

Low Blood Pressure

During surgery, it is typically expected that the patient will lose blood. For this reason, blood pressure needs to be monitored throughout the procedure. Low blood pressure can occur if the patient loses a significant amount of blood. When a significant amount of blood is lost, the professionals monitoring the patient should administer a blood transfusion. If this is not done, their blood pressure could drop low enough for them to slip into a coma.

Lack of Oxygen

The brain needs continuous oxygen in order to function. If the brain is deprived of oxygen, cells quickly die within 5 minutes. A lack of oxygen during surgery can cause hypoxic brain damage. Hypoxic brain damage refers to injuries that occur to the brain from a lack of oxygen. During a procedure, oxygen levels need to be closely monitored to ensure the patient has enough oxygen. Johns Hopkins Medicine reveals that in most cases once brain cells are damaged or die, they do not regenerate. So if the lack of oxygen goes unnoticed for a period of time, the damage is done. The patient can suffer severe brain injuries that can lead to a coma or even death. 

Failure to Address Infections

Before any surgery, medical professionals need to inquire about any illness or infections that the patient has. If the patient does have an infection, and the surgeon goes through with the surgery, this increases the risk of the surgical site developing another infection. The surgical site infection and the existing infection could overwhelm the patient’s body, causing their organs to shut down. 

Hemorrhagic Stroke

Strokes are unfortunately very common. In fact, they are the fifth highest cause of death in the United States. The Cleveland Clinic defines a hemorrhagic stroke as uncontrolled bleeding in the brain. A patient can suffer from a hemorrhagic stroke if their blood pressure is not monitored or managed throughout the surgery. A stroke can also occur if there is a blood clot in the patient’s brain that goes unnoticed until it’s too late. Without sufficient blood flow to the brain, cells will begin to die in a matter of minutes. This brain damage is unfixable, and the patient’s brain function may never be the same.

What Legal Actions Can I Take if My Loved One Is in a Coma Due to a Surgical Error?

It is truly heartbreaking when a loved one falls into a coma due to a preventable error during surgery. It is important to know what legal actions you can take to get justice for your loved one. 

You may be able to sue for medical malpractice if three factors can be proved.

You need to be able to prove:

  • The medical professional(s) breached the standard of care
  • That negligence caused the injury
  • Your loved one suffered severe Injuries

To be able to sue for medical malpractice the best route to take is to find an experienced medical malpractice attorney. Many medical malpractice firms offer free consultations, so you should take advantage of this. This way you can meet several attorneys and decide who would be the best fit for your case. Keep in mind that a good medical malpractice attorney will be open about previous cases and outcomes. If they have not dealt with medical malpractice cases before, then they will not be a good fit. 

Medical malpractice cases vary from other legal cases because they require a wealth of medical knowledge, great communication, and high attention to detail. Once you choose an attorney, they will gather medical records and other important documents in order to determine who was at fault for the error. 

Contact Our Experienced Cleveland Medical Malpractice Attorneys

For almost 40 years, Christopher Mellino has made it his mission to get justice for victims of medical malpractice. With our two attorneys, two paralegals, and a legal nurse we have the medical knowledge and attention to detail to take on your medical malpractice case.

We obtained a $12.5 million settlement for the family of a 51-year-old man, whose heart surgery was negligently performed. This carelessness unfortunately left him in a persistent vegetative state.

If your loved one has fallen into a coma or vegetative state from an error during surgery, we encourage you to contact our Cleveland medical malpractice attorneys. Call our Rocky River office at (440) 333-3800 or fill out our contact form and we will reach out to you as soon as possible.