$3M Verdict Illustrating Malpractice After Doctor Performs Unnecessary Heart Surgery

Barry D. Rooth, Holly S.C. Wojcik, and Will Theodoros, Theodoros & Rooth, P.C., and Gabe Hawkins, Cowen & Malad, LLP

Nearly 300 patients have filed lawsuits against an Indiana heart doctor for implanting hundreds of unnecessary heart devices. The victim, in this case, entered the hospital with a history of heart problems and a pacemaker that had been implanted years earlier. Instead of making a simple adjustment to her pacemaker settings, the doctor scheduled her for an unnecessary heart surgery that would scar her for life.

Barry D. Rooth, Holly S.C. Wojcik, Will Theodoros, and Gabe Hawkins needed a visual presentation that would help jurors understand why the cardiologist was liable for medical malpractice. The final result was a $3M jury verdict.

Barry D. Rooth and Holly S.C. Wojcik explain why they choose High Impact for complex medical malpractice case.

Holly Wojcik, Esq., Theodoros and Rooth, P.C., Merrillville, IN
Sometimes it's difficult, especially with medical malpractice, to convey the medical ideas and get a jury to understand exactly what our claim is and what our clients have been through, what their losses are. High Impact has helped us do that in both arenas. When we can show them what's actually going on in someone's body through a medical illustration or an animation, it brings it all to life for the jury so they can really understand our client's damages.
Barry D. Rooth, Esq., Theodoros and Rooth, P.C., Merrillville, IN
We had two attorneys at the plaintiff’s table, and the defendants had four times that number, plus support staff. Despite the stark differences in human resources, the jury believed that we were the more prepared side, which was due in large part to the fact that we had exhibits and slides for every key issue. As always, it was great to juxtapose those resources against the defendants’ exhibits. Add in the fact that we were using Maestro, and the differences and advantages furthered our goal of establishing us as the trustworthy side.

The patient first visited her cardiologist with reports of dizziness and shortness of breath. Her pacemaker settings were abnormally fast, as illustrated below. Had the Defendant simply recalibrated the pacemaker to the correct timing, he could have easily addressed the issue.

The patient could have avoided the surgery had the Defendant simply recalibrated her pacemaker from 250 ms to 275ms.

However, the defendant claimed that the pacing problem could only be fixed by implanting a new device - which was not true.

The Defendant chose to schedule her for an unnecessary surgery to have her 2 Lead Pacemaker replaced with a 3 Lead Pacemaker - without referring the patient to an electrophysiologist and without getting an EKG reading.

As illustrated below, the patient’s original 2 Lead Pacemaker involved two wires that were implanted into the right ventricle of the heart (left image). The new pacemaker, recommended by the Defendant, would add a third lead wire to the left ventricle (right image).

The Defendant recommended implanting a third lead wire into the left ventricle of the heart.

Holly Wojcik, Esq., Theodoros and Rooth, P.C., Merrillville, IN
He told the patient she would feel better. He told the patient she would be able to do activities she wasn't able to do. He told the patient she needed it.

Before recommending surgery, the Defendant should have tried adjusting the original pacemaker settings, he should have obtained an EKG reading, and he should have referred the patient to an electrophysiologist. Instead, the Defendant chose to misdirect his patient into undergoing an unnecessarily high-risk procedure that resulted in a traumatic experience followed by years of pain and suffering.

The Pathways Chart below outlines the massive difference in outcomes the patient could have experienced had the Defendant chosen to follow proper procedure.

This Pathways Chart outlines the correct approach versus the decisions made by the Defendant.

Barry D. Rooth, Esq., Theodoros and Rooth, P.C., Merrillville, IN
The Right Way-Wrong Way chart beautifully framed the defendants’ negligent choices, and, along with the Medical Illustrations, simplified the otherwise complicated medical issues.

On the day of surgery, the Defendant removed the old pacemaker but failed to implant the new device - so he put the old pacemaker back in and “stapled her back up.” The Defendant then referred the patient to another surgeon who would perform a thoracotomy, which involved entering through her chest.

During this surgery, the anesthesia failed, and the procedure was performed while the patient was awake and fully aware of everything that was happening.

First, as illustrated below, an incision was made on her left side. Her ribs were spread open and her left lung was retracted to access the heart. The third lead was then placed in her left ventricle, tunneled under her skin and muscle, and connected to the pacemaker device.

This exhibit served as an informational visual anchor for understanding and remembering this traumatic experience.

Holly Wojcik, Esq., Theodoros and Rooth, P.C., Merrillville, IN
She could hear what was happening and she could feel what was happening. She couldn't cry, she couldn't call out, she couldn't wiggle her toes or move her eyelids.

The next illustration drives home the magnitude of invasiveness this surgery entailed, as compared to how easily the patient’s condition could have been addressed by simply adjusting her pacemaker settings by a few milliseconds. Had the cardiologist followed proper protocol, he would have easily concluded that all the patient needed was a simple adjustment to her 2 Lead Pacemaker.

Instead of making the simple adjustment on the left, the doctor had his patient undergo the experience on the right.

Barry D. Rooth, Esq., Theodoros and Rooth, P.C., Merrillville, IN
The doctor must always put the patient's interests ahead of his own. Not this time.

The Defense claimed that the patient improved after having the third lead implanted. However, the patient reported symptoms of dizziness, shortness of breath, and weakness in the days after surgery. Throughout the upcoming months and years, she would report a heavy feeling in her chest, multiple episodes of a severely increased heart rate, and swelling in the legs. These symptoms were the result of a low Ejection Fraction and a highly dilated left ventricle (LVED) in her heart, as illustrated below.

The patient suffered low ejection fraction (EF) and high left ventricular end diastolic (LVED).

Furthermore, the patient’s heart was experiencing mitral valve regurgitation, which is a condition in which the mitral valve doesn’t close properly, and blood flows backward into the left atrium.

The patient suffered mitral valve regurgitation, which involved blood flowing back through the mitral valve into the atrium.

Two years after surgery, her pacemaker settings were dialed back to avoid the third lead, but episodes of increased heart rate persisted. After four more years of suffering, she would eventually undergo a complete heart transplant. The timeline below charts this story in comprehensive detail.

This Timeline of Events outlines what happened to the patient from her first pacemaker to her final heart transplant.

Barry D. Rooth, Esq., Theodoros and Rooth, P.C., Merrillville, IN
The Timeline was essential to orient and focus the jurors on the relevant care; given that the medical records spanned over 20 years of treatments involving doctors and hospitals in several states. Naturally, the defendants wanted to focus on all care other than the defendant’s, but the timeline was a great anchor for the negligent treatment.

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