Texas widow sues Aspen hospital over husband’s 2015 death
December 18, 2017
A Texas woman has filed a federal complaint alleging Aspen’s public hospital and two of its general surgeons played a part in her husband’s death in 2015.
The lawsuit by Jane Fagan was filed against Aspen Valley Hospital and Drs. Lesley Fraser and Joseph Livengood last month in the U.S. District Court of Denver.
The hospital, as is its standing practice about pending litigation, declined to discuss the lawsuit.
The suit came almost exactly two years after Fagan’s 53-year-old husband, John, was admitted to the hospital’s emergency department with abdominal pains Nov. 23, 2015.
Fagan told physicians the pain had been “worsening and waxing and waning” for three weeks prior to going to AVH, according to the suit.
The suit said a CT scan of Fagan’s abdomen and pelvis, which was reviewed by an AVH doctor who is not a defendant in the suit, revealed the patient likely had diverticulitis, which is when small pouches bulge through the colon, along with a pelvic abscess.
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While under Fraser’s care, Fagan was considered for transfer to a Denver hospital for treatment the same day he was admitted to AVH, the suit says.
However, Fagan — who had a fever while his abdominal pain increased his first night at the hospital — remained at AVH and underwent surgery Nov. 25. The day after the operation, Fagan’s abdominal pain intensified and he began to have shaking chills, the suit claims, and doctors gave him Dilaudid and Valium to treat the pain.
On Nov. 27, Fagan remained under the care of AVH, where he reported being fatigued and tired and said his abdominal pain was 7 on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the highest, the suit said.
Numerous tests were performed during the meantime, showing that Fagan’s heart rate was 138 and his pain had increased to 8 out of 10. More cause for concern that evening was Fagan had an elevated potassium level that was “critical,” the suit claims.
On Nov. 28, Livengood determined Fagan had hyperglycemia, which is high blood sugar; an infectious disease known as Clostridium difficil; hyperkalemia, which is a high level of potassium in the blood serum; and acute renal failure, according to the suit.
On Nov. 29, Fagan’s condition worsened, the suit says, and that afternoon a nurse reported that he was “becoming more restless and confused … pulling at lines and attempting to remove his gown,” the suit says.
Livengood, at 5:30 p.m. that day, signed off to have Fagan transferred to St. Mary’s Medical Center in Grand Junction.
Fagan continued to be restless — his heart rate had increased to 170 and then to 190 — and at 8:42 p.m. he was taken to an Aspen ambulance for a non-emergent transport, the suit says.
A St. Mary’s ambulance intercepted Fagan in DeBeque, a town off the Interstate 70 corridor. Fagan was reportedly unresponsive at the time “but did have a pulse and was breathing on his own,” the suit says.
While at St. Mary’s, doctors identified that Fagan had suffered from what’s called an “anastomotic leak” during the Aspen surgery. However, the leak, which in simple terms is a surgical complication, was not identified by Aspen doctors.
On Dec. 4, Fagan died at the Grand Junction hospital.
“The cause of Mr. Fagan’s death was charted as overwhelming gram negative septic shock, peritonitis, candidemia, acute renal failure, and acute respiratory failure,” the suit says.
The suit accuses Fraser and Livengood of committing medical malpractice, while AVH is accused of direct negligence.
“As a direct and proximate result of the negligence of defendant Fraser, Mr. Fagan died and his widow, plaintiff Jane Fagan, suffered, continues to suffer and will suffer in the future non-economic damages including, without limitation, profound grief and sadness, loss of companionship, emotional pain and suffering, impairment of quality of life, inconvenience and anguish, together with economic damages including, without limitation, the financial benefit Mrs. Fagan would have expected to receive from Mr. Fagan, together with burial and funeral expenses, and loss of services,” the suit says.
Denver law firms Thomas Keel & Laird LLC and Ogborn Mihm LLP represent the plaintiff.