3 horrific medical mistakes that scandalize the profession

Published on
May 4, 2016

Preventable medical mistakes are the third leading cause of death in the U.S after heart disease and cancer.

Medical mistakes claim about 400,000 people every year in U.S. It seems that the number of deaths due to medical negligence is increasing every year. Here is the evidence: In 1999, the famous "To Err Is Human" report published by the Institute of Medicine reported approximately 98,000 people die every year due to hospital mistakes. The Office of Inspector General for the Department of Health and Human Services reported in 2010, that hospital mistakes account for 180,000 deaths in a given year. And currently the figure has reached to 400,000 deaths every year.  

So it is time that doctors and everyone else related to the medical field take their professions seriously and become more responsible towards their patients. When a patient sees a doctor, he trusts his doctor whole-heartedly. But mistakes keep happening. Dr. Albert Wu, an internist at Johns Hopkins Hospital says, "Mistakes are happening every day in every hospital in the country that we're just not catching".

Here are top 3 shocking medical mistake stories from the U.S:

1. Rhode Island Hospital – Brain Surgery Disaster

Brain surgeries are the most complicated surgeries of all, but no one could ever think, doctors at the Rhode Island Hospital, the best hospital of the state and a teaching hospital for students of Brown University, would make three terrific mistakes in a row. In each case, the wrong side of the brain was being operated.

In the first incident, a third year resident failed to mark the side of the brain that was to be operated. The nurse and doctor later agreed that they were not trained to use a checklist before a brain surgery.

In the second incident, an experienced doctor (with more than 20 years' experience) denied mentioning which side of the brain of an 86 year old man was to be operated in the medical form. He assured he would remember it. The patient died a week later.

In the third incident, the chief resident neurosurgeon and the nurse both confirmed which side if the brain was to be operated before the surgery but ended up operating the wrong side.       

2. Leilani Schweitzer and her Son Gabriel's Story

A 20-month old boy, Gabriel died in one of the country's leading hospitals. After a lot of running between pillars and poles, Leilani admitted her sick boy to Lucile Packard Children's Hospital in Stanford, which is one of the most reputed childcare hospitals in U.S. As a mother she felt safe to have her boy admitted in one of the best hospitals.

A lot of wires were attached to Gabriel's bare chest to monitor the breathing and heartbeat. The alarms went off every time the little boy wiggled and every time the alarm went off, Leilani would get worried all over again.

Since she was very tired and fatigued, the nurse turned-off the alarm sound next to the little boy's bed. But neither the mother nor the nurse knew a lot of more had been done. The nurse turned off all the alarms – in the nurses' station, in the room, on her pager and everywhere else. So when the boy's heart stopped beating, there was no sound at all.

Leilani considers herself lucky, since the hospital staffs faced her, were compassionate and took the responsibility.

3. Carol Hemmelgarn' Story of Struggle

Carol Hemmelgarn's daughter Alyssa, 9 years old was diagnosed with leukaemia and it had turned their world upside down. But the blood disorder was not the cause of Alyssa's death. She died due to a series of medical mistakes made by the staffs at the hospital.

After being admitted to the hospital, one of the medical staff noted that Alyssa was ‘anxious' based on which another doctor prescribed her an anti-anxiety drug Ativan. Soon after, her blood pressure started falling and her pulse rate was high. She was being treated for the wrong things and she started collapsing.

The next morning she was rushed to the intensive care unit and then into the surgery room. A few moments later the parents were informed that Alyssa was no more. In reality, Alyssa had developed a severe hospital-acquired infection, which is known as C. diff., but she was treated for anxiety.    

Carol Hemmelgarn says, "It wasn't the cancer that killed her. It was medical errors."

There are several other stories that indicate thousands of lives are lost due to medical errors.

How can Medical Practitioners Ensure Better Care?

We all make mistakes, but in medicine the mistakes can cost a life. So it is necessary that doctors become more responsible and take steps that minimise medical errors. Medical errors often arise due to carelessness, lack of adequate knowledge, etc. Some errors also occur due to systems errors.

A lot has been done by the doctors and hospitals to minimise medical errors. For instance, in an attempt to minimise operating room mistakes, routine time-outs are performed before each surgery. During these time outs the staffs and doctors confirm patient identification, medical allergies, site of surgery, equipment needed, anticipated events, and personnel present.

After the surgery the personnel gather to discuss whether everything went as planned and if not what measures can be taken to handle situations.

There are a few more things that must be done and they are:

  • Better communication between doctors when changing shifts. Proper communication between doctors changing shifts reduced medical errors by 30 percent.
  • Better communication between the doctor and patients. The patients should inform the doctor about allergies, medicines they take regularly, and all other information that can affect decision making.
  • Training junior doctors to handle intricate situations.
  • Doctors need to be more responsible when addressing patient issues.
  • Taking a second opinion when uncertain about a symptom or treatment.
  • Hospitals should ensure only trained and experienced doctors and staffs perform surgeries.

Preventing medical errors is very important since medical negligence can lead to medical malpractice lawsuits, which not only damages the doctor's reputation; but the doctor might also have to pay huge compensations. For instance, the husband and children of Shannon Dodson, who was killed due to medical negligence at the Mercy Hospital St. Louis, took help from a St. Louis medical malpractice attorney and succeeded in obtaining $10.83 million in damages and $9 million of which were non-economic damages.


Medical professionals are human beings who have to fight tough situations every day; so even if the treatment or surgeries are performed perfectly, things can go wrong for many reasons. Often even medical professionals are deeply affected due to bad outcomes of their actions, so it is necessary that appropriate support systems are developed to help doctors and other medical professionals serve the patients better.

We cannot deny the fact that many doctors or medical institutions make mistakes that could be avoided had they been more responsible. So, even doctors need to be more responsible towards their patients. By changing a few things in the medical system, we can ensure minimum medical errors and better patient care.

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