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Paralyzed Army vet awarded $8.3M in VA hospital lawsuit

Nov. 20, 2013 - 01:09PM   |  

ST. LOUIS — An Army veteran who lost a leg and suffered severe brain damage when a routine surgical procedure at the John Cochran VA Medical Center went wrong has been awarded $8.3 million in a medical negligence lawsuit

Postal worker Dirk Askew had a cardiac stent inserted at the veterans’ hospital in February 2009 after complaining of chest pain. Askew, then 43, returned one week later after developing an infected artery in his right leg, which was later amputated. His lawyers said surgeons improperly used infected tissue to repair the damage and waited too long before performing corrective surgery. Significant blood loss then led to his brain injury.

The father of three is now paralyzed and mostly unable to communicate.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported Wednesday that the settlement will pay $6.8 million to Askew and $1.5 million to his wife. U.S. District Judge Henry Autrey ordered the payment Monday following a two-day trial last month.

“She did quite a good job of raising her kids. She is now raising a child, who is her husband, who will never grow up,” said David Damick, attorney for the Askews. “Sometimes he is very depressed when he realizes what he can’t do.”

Damick said the Askews hope to move from their south St. Louis house they share with their daughter’s family into a more wheelchair-accessible home.

The lead attorney representing the medical center, Nicholas Llewellyn of the U.S. attorney’s office, declined to comment.

The case marks the latest negligence claim at John Cochran VA Medical Center after years of problems.

A Florida man sued the hospital in February over what he called months of unnecessary radiation and chemotherapy treatments after being misdiagnosed with lymphoma.

The hospital shut down its operating rooms in February 2011 after rust stains were found on surgical equipment. The rooms reopened after a month of cleaning and replacement of faulty equipment. The hospital has since hired additional nurses and other staff and opened a $7 million sterilization center.

A nurse in Cochran’s intensive care unit was banned from treating patients after injecting one patient with a potentially lethal dose of the painkiller fentanyl and other “egregious acts resulting in death or near death of patients” in 2010, according to a report from the VA Office of Inspector General.

Another investigation into the 2010 death of a 58-year-old man found that a nurse did not recognize or report that the man receiving kidney dialysis had become unresponsive during a five-hour treatment session.

And more than 1,800 veterans were notified in 2010 that they might have been exposed to HIV, hepatitis or other viruses because of inadequate sterilization procedures in the center’s dental clinic. No illnesses were linked to the potential exposure.

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