February 05, 2014

Man Sues ENT for Wrongful Tracheostomy

Image from ParaMedicine101
In December 2012, a West Virginia man suffered angioedema causing tongue swelling due to a not uncommon reaction from lisinopril. Presumably due to airway concern from the tongue swelling, an urgent tracheostomy (cutting a hole in the throat) was performed.

The patient later filed suit against the ENT who performed the tracheostomy stating that it was unnecessary as the tongue swelling was getting better. [link]

Although a tracheostomy is not always performed for tongue swelling due to angioedema, it also is not unusual to do so, mainly because the alternative outcome is airway loss and death. It is a judgement call on the physicians who are caring for a patient with angioedema whether close monitoring alone is sufficient versus performing a tracheostomy. If the tongue swelling is large enough to cause some airway obstruction, no physician or ENT would ever question the need for a tracheostomy, regardless of whether the swelling "might" be getting better or not.

If one waited until the airway became critical before performing a tracheostomy, the risk of death and complications become MUCH larger. As such, a tracheostomy is performed well before there's any chance of airway loss. (Intubation is not recommended or at times even possible as the act of trying to intubate may trigger airway loss.)

Indeed, the patient who is suing the ENT may not be alive today to sue the ENT if it weren't for the tracheostomy. Instead, it would be the family who would be suing the ENT for wrongful death for NOT doing a tracheostomy.

Check out this lawsuit where an ENT did NOT perform a tracheostomy for airway swelling resulting in death. Here's another lawsuit for similar though under more convoluted circumstances.

Clay Co. man says doctors performed unnecessary tracheostomy. West Virginia Record. 1/29/14

Fauquier blog
Fauquier ENT

Dr. Christopher Chang is a private practice otolaryngology, head & neck surgeon specializing in the treatment of problems related to the ear, nose, and throat. Located in Warrenton, VA about 45 minutes west of Washington DC, he also provides inhalant allergy testing/treatment, hearing tests, and dispenses hearing aids.

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