A Woman’s Untreated E. Coli Urinary Tract Infection Results in Her Death After an Operation to Remove an Ovary

A 45-year-old woman needed to have a cyst and her right ovary removed because of the pain it was causing.  A routine pre-operation urine culture was taken 3 days prior to the planned operation, showing that the woman had an E. Coli urinary tract infection.  At the presurgical evaluation performed by her primary care physician the day before the surgery, the doctor made the diagnosis and prescribed antibiotics to be taken twice daily.  He still cleared her for the surgery the following day.

Plaintiff’s investigation showed that in the meantime, the woman had been instructed first by the surgeon’s administrator, and then by the presurgical nurse coordinator for the hospital, not to be taking any medications the day of the surgery.  In fact, the woman was told on three separate occasions (including directly prior to seeing her primary care doctor) to not eat or drink anything after midnight the day before the surgery.  The presurgical nurse coordinator for the hospital emphasized the instructions later in the day when she called the woman to communicate when to arrive at the hospital for the surgery.  Plaintiff’s investigation showed that at no time did the surgeon’s office or hospital call to amend their instructions based upon the primary care physician’s prescription, which both the surgeon’s office and the hospital had the records showing the diagnosis and perscription.

The woman arrived for surgery the next morning and told the healthcare personnel that she had not eaten or drank anything since 4 p.m. the day before.  Further, she told them that she had not taken any medications.  Plaintiff’s investigation showed that despite having a copy of the primary care physician’s notes and prescription, none of the healthcare professionals asked her about the antibiotics the primary care physician had prescribed the day before.  Even though the woman would have had to take a dose of the antibiotics while she was at the hospital waiting for the surgery, nothing was done to provide her any antibiotics to treat her E.Coli urinary tract infection.

After the late Friday afternoon surgery, the woman was discharged from the hospital at 9:00 p.m.  The hospital personnel did not provide to her any antibiotics to treat her active E.Coli infection, nor did they provide any instructions about taking the antibiotics previously prescribed by her primary physician.

Not long after she got home, the woman began having pain in her abdomen.  When the pain medication failed to alleviate the pain, the woman’s family called the physician seeking information about what to do.  As her condition worsened, the family had the woman taken to a local hospital to be seen.  No attempt was made at the local hospital to treat the “acute abdomen” pain that the woman was having after the surgery other than providing pain medication.  The local hospital called and had the woman transferred back to the hospital that performed the surgery.

Once back at the original hospital, no attempt was made to treat her infection until after they had performed an exploratory surgery for the cause of her infection of the abdomen. Further, after the exploratory surgery, the woman lapsed into septic shock. No bowel perforation was found in the exploratory surgery.  The culture taken from fluid in the woman’s abdomen had the same E. Coli bacteria that had been in her urine.  Unfortunately, by this time her septic shock had progressed to such an extent that the healthcare professionals were unable to save her, and she died the third day after her original surgery.

The woman was survived by her husband and three adult sons.  Her husband remarried four years after her death.  The case settled after mediation.